Epiphany 3 — They Have No Wine

Preached January 23, 2011

Romans 12:16b–21
St. John 2:1–11

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This the third Sunday of the Epiphany season, the shining forth of the manifestation of our Incarnate Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We would do well this morning to consider first just how slowly this process moves, this revelation of our Savior to mankind. It began with the visit of the shepherds to the manager in Bethlehem, no more than a day or so after the Christ Child was first born. The shepherds had been guided by the Angels, so this is a revelation to a few rough country folk in the Judean countryside, but primarily to his parents, Mary and Joseph. This was followed sometime later by the visit of the Magi, guided by the star, and again the revelation is primarily to his parents, Mary and Joseph. At that point, aside from His parents, He has been revealed to less people than you could count on your two hands.

Then we have the encounter with the teachers of the Law in the Temple at Jerusalem, where they are astonished at His wisdom and understanding. They know that He is truly someone extraordinary, although they fail to grasp His divine nature. This raises the total to perhaps as many as two dozen people who have some hint who Jesus really is.

Then last week, we considered Jesus’ baptism by St. John Baptist in the Jordan river. This certainly was not a private event, so we may say with confidence that there were others present to observe and hear when the dove descended upon Christ following the baptism and the voice of God said, Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. So we presume that all of those observers saw and heard the testimony of God the Father regarding just who Jesus was, perhaps raising the total to as many as fifty people now. This brings us to the Gospel teaching for today, the Wedding at Cana.

John 2:1-2  And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. There is general agreement among all the commentaries that Mary, the mother of Jesus was related to one of those being married, most likely the bridegroom, although the exact reason for this is never fully spelled out. This is supported in part by the fact that she takes charge when the wine runs short, as though she was a senior member of the family. To say that Jesus was called simply means that He was invited even though the wording sounds a bit strange on modern ears. Note that the invitation includes also His disciples which at this time numbered only about five or six. If we think about what we know of Jesus throughout His public ministry, He was never one to turn down an invitation to a dinner or any sort of entertainment. Thus what we see here is the beginning of a long pattern.

And then the crises arises, John 2:3  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. This indicates that the family of the bridegroom were far from wealthy, and thus had not provided an adequate supply of wine for the wedding festivities. This would be a matter of intense embarrassment to the groom, and likewise for the larger family.

What Christ says in the next verse seems to be eventually contradicted by what He in fact does: John 2:4  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. First of all, we are told by the commentators that the use of the nominative of address, “Woman,” as used here was not considered disrespectful at all in the time of Christ. There are numerous other examples in the Bible where it is used that make it clear that no disrespect is intended. In the question, what have I to do with thee? it appears that Jesus may be reminding His mother that He is about the business of the Father, and as such does not take instructions on such matters from her. This is reinforced by the statement mine hour is not yet come. Having said all of that, He immediately does exactly as she has implicitly asked. Mary simply sets the stage by saying John 2:5  His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

John 2:6  And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Now a firkin is nine gallons, so each of these stone water jars could contain from 18 to 27 gallons of water. Just to give you some idea how big that is, if the bore was ten inches in diameter, a two firkin jar would be just under fifty three inches deep, and a three firkin jar would be a little over seventy nine inches deep — these are truly huge jars! A bigger bore would result in shorter jars, but either way, they are very, very large.

John 2:7  Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. It is quite significant that Jesus chose these water pots which everyone knew had been sitting completely empty for some time. He made this choice, rather than to refill the wineskins that had just been depleted. Had He worked with the old wine skins, some would have said that they were not truly empty, or in one way or another argued that no miracle had occurred. By starting with jars known by all to have been empty and clean, there was no question about the miracle. The servants follow Mary’s instructions to the letter, filling the water pots to the very brim. You can just imagine the excitement among the servants as they watched to see what would happen next!

Having worked the miracle, our Lord gives the command that will make the whole thing evident, John 2:8  And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. As long as the water turned to fine wine remained in the water pots, no one was any the wiser; there had been no revelation of God, no shining forth of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the servants who had watched what was happening could only suspect; it had to be presented to mankind to be seen and appreciated. Thus Jesus gives the command that the wine be sampled and taken to the steward in charge of the wedding feast.

This leads to the wonderful exchange between the steward and the bridegroom, John 2:9-10   When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. The steward is puzzled that the finest wine has been saved for the last because that is contrary to the established practice. Ordinarily, the best wine would be served first while men are still most able to discern, and only later when they are less discerning from too much previous drink, then the lower quality wine is set out. But here, the very highest quality wine has been saved for the last. Of course, the whole point is that neither the steward nor the bridegroom understand the true source of this fine wine. The only ones who do are those few who have observed the miracle: Mary, the servants, and Jesus’ disciples. Thus even in this first “public miracle,” that marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we have only a small group of people who witness and understand the meaning of the miracle.

The closing verse of our Gospel lesson for today makes two important points: John 2:11  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. First, this is the first of the miracles actually done by Jesus Himself. The previous miracles are all manifestation of the Father and the Holy Ghost, more than of the Son, but this time it is the Son Himself who works the miracle. Secondly, his disciples believed on him. This implies a significant change in their understanding of who He was after this event as compared to before it. Presumably, before Cana they thought of Him as simply an excellent teacher, a rabbi, but now they see that He is indeed the Son of God. That is a huge change.

Note also the extraordinarily abundant gift of God in the amount of wine provided by Christ. The miracle has provided in excess of one hundred and fifty gallons of fine wine for a wedding feast well under way. That would be more than enough to serve a very large wedding without what had been provided in the beginning, but extravagance of this sort is a natural attribute of a gift of a King such as our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is suggested that St. John Evangelist may have intended an allegorical understanding here as well with the changing of water into wine. The water is representative of Judaism, with its emphasis on ceremonial purification rites. The wine is representative of Christianity as a power to transform life itself. In this miracle, the water of Judaism is changed into the wine of Christianity through the power of Jesus Christ.

As we see the continuing revelation of our Lord and Saviour, let us be alert to every aspect of His self–revelation that we may know Him better. We should be alert to His generous gifts given to us in our lives even yet today if we are watching for them. The age of miracles is not past, and they continue to reveal our Saviour to us in our lives today.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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