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The Best Wine

Our Biblical survey of Pastoral concerns for the church now transitions from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  The state of the church still occupies our prayerful reflections. The Gospel according to John lends itself readily to this objective because the evangelist wrote with a love and passion for the early post ascension faith community that caused him to use to the stories and teachings of Jesus as a wakeup call to them.  My own reading of the landscape today shows some disturbing similarities.

The highly familiar story of the first Miracle of Jesus, in John 2 is our text.  It read as follows, On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”“Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b] Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

At the time of writing John was well advanced is age. He observed the faith community sliding into idleness, inertia and irrelevance and sounds an alarm by recounting for them the ways in which Jesus’ ministry from the very outset took aim at that very same reality in the religion of the Jews of his time. 

Why would we arrive at such a conclusion from what appears to be a wonderful story of a miracle at a wedding? All’s well that ends well right?  The rebuke of religion is stated in the text but we have to look deeper to see it.  It leaps out at us in the cryptic words of verse 6 “.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Both the jars and the water are significant.  The religious value of ceremonial water should not miss our attention. Here we meet Jesus appearing at a prominent Jewish institutions and festival and harnessing their symbols to identify his person or mission.  At this wedding he leverages religious values of ceremonial washing.  In the sign of the water being made into wine the most critical bit of information is John’s identification of the kind of vessels that were used to be filled with water and equally but perhaps more importantly the description of where and how the vessels were located.  John is clever throughout the book with location clues.  He tells us “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  The jars were standing by, in fact lying around not being used for their designated purpose.  This represents the replacement of the Jewish ceremonial washings and symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus. 

Let us not make the mistake, as some do, of classifying this first miracle as mundane as and less pious than the other signs.  John’s interest in it is deliberate and clinical.  The words of verse three are significant in regard to the state that the religious establishment had descended into. John recalls the words of Mary to Jesus, “And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.”  Mary’s words carried the force of  “to be late,” and hence “to come short of,” “to lack,” and also “to be wanting” This is clearly intended to be a commentary on the religion of the day, it had come short, it was lacking, it had failed the test.  Weddings typically involved seven days of feasting.  Failure by the groom to provide adequately for the guests was a social disgrace.[1]  In the culture of the day there could have even been legal implications for the bridegroom.  Weddings in the ancient Near East included a strong legal side, especially regarding providing the appropriate wedding gift, of which the wedding feast was a part. When the supply of wine failed at this wedding, more than social embarrassment was at stake. The bridegroom and his family could have become financially liable for inadequate wedding provisions. The seriousness of the lack of wine (symbolizing a lack of joy) helps us to appreciate the blessing contained in the miracle Jesus performed.

The entire miracle story here is being used by John to paint a contrast between what religion of the day had become and what Jesus was bringing.  In the midst of a social crisis for the host of the wedding Jesus brings hope and saves the day.  As Salt and Light, we are expected to offer hope and cauterize embarrassing situations around us.  How often do we on the contrary take delight in broadcasting the short comings of others?  The words of the song “We Are One In The Spirit” call us to a routine, characteristic commitment to guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride. 

Apart from highlighting the above contrast between what religion had become and what Jesus brought, John demonstrates the extravagance of Jesus demonstration of His glory.  The amount of wine provided could serve that wedding and quite a few others. This is John building on his abundance theme which he introduces in chapter one with the words “full of”. John 1:14- The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… and further at John 1:16 – Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.   Where the religion had come up short, been found wanting, missed the mark, Jesus brings an oversupply.  This is quite in keeping with His words in John 10… I have come to give life more abundantly.  We will examine further the ways in which the idleness, inertia and irrelevance of the church today manifests itself and how Jesus has equipped us to bring new wine in excess to our world.


[1][1] Cleon L. Rogers Jnr & Cleon L. Rogers III. The New Lingusitic and Exegetical Key To The New Testament, 1998, 781

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