The Gospel readings for this Year C lectionary are mostly from the Gospel of Luke—all of the Sundays in this season after Epiphany are from Luke—except today, when we get this reading from John. The lectionary preparers inserted this John passage about the wedding at Cana and turning water into wine because it is a story that is told nowhere else in our Bible, and it is recognized as two things—the first miracle of Jesus, and the start of his ministry.
The story goes like this: Jesus was attending a wedding in Cana with his disciples and the party ran out of wine. Jesus' mother (unnamed in John's Gospel) told Jesus, "They have no wine," and Jesus replied, "O Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come." His mother then said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you". Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief steward waiter. After tasting it, and not knowing where it came from, the steward congratulated the bridegroom on departing from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last. John adds that: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and it revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him ".
From Wikipedia I found that the exact location of Cana (as with most of the locations of biblical events places) has been subject to debate among scholars. The name means “place of reeds”. Modern scholars maintain that since the Gospel of John was addressed to Jewish Christians of the time, it isn’t likely that the evangelist would mention a place that did not exist.
A Catholic tradition dating back to the 8th century identifies Cana with the modern Arab town of Kafr Kanna, about 7 km northeast of Nazareth, Israel. In this village today, stands the Greek Orthodox church of St. George, built in 1886, inside which are jars which locals claim are two of the jars used in Jesus’ first miracle. Recent scholars have suggested alternatives, including the ruined village of Khirbet Kana, about 9 km further north, and Ain Kana, which is closer to Nazareth and considered by some to be a better candidate on etymological grounds. Many ancient and modern archaeologists have sought to recover the jars used at Cana, but no specific archeological data have confirmed their discovery. (I have provided you with a picture of the St. George church at Kafr Kanna, along with some 500 years old renaissance period art about this wedding. The other picture—you can read for yourself!)
In one commentary I read it said that John Chapters 2-12 are often called the Book of Signs, because in them Jesus performs signs that reveal his glory. A sign is more than a demonstration of power. A sign reveals something –– points to something beyond itself. The seven signs in John are:
1. The wine at Cana (2:1-11).
2. The healing of an official's son, also performed at Cana (4:46-54).
3. The healing of a sick man (5:1-9).
4. The feeding of the five thousand (6:1-14).
5. Walking on the sea (6:15-21).
6. The healing of the man born blind (9:1-34).
7. The resurrection of Lazarus (11:38-44)
I believe all the rest of these signs/miracles are found also in the other Gospels.
Just to show that there is never one way to look at these stories, here are some other interesting commentaries about this story of changing water into wine.
In the journal Biblical Archaeological Review, Michael Homan argues that many biblical scholars have misinterpreted early texts, translating to 'wine' when the more sensible translation is 'beer'. If the celebration at Cana had served beer rather than wine, it is far less likely that archaeological evidence of the vessels will ever be discovered. As Homan discusses, beer was usually consumed quite soon after its making, leaving less evidence in the vessel containing it. Further, the tools used in its creation are often the same as those used in bread-making, obscuring their likely alternative use in beer brewing.
Among theologians there is discussion about whether this story talks of an actual material transformation of water into wine, or is a spiritual allegory. Interpreted allegorically, the good news and hope implied by the story is in the words of the Governor of the Feast when he tasted the good wine, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now". This could be interpreted by saying simply that it is always darkest before the dawn, but good things are on the way. The more usual interpretation, however, is that this is a reference to the appearance of Jesus, whom the author of John regards as being himself the good wine.
This story has had considerable importance in the development of Christian pastoral theology. The gospel account of Jesus being invited to a wedding, attending, and using his divine power to save the celebrations from disaster are taken as evidence of his approval for marriage and earthly celebrations, in contrast to the more austere views of Saint Paul as found, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7. It has also been used as an argument against Christian teetotalism, abstinence from alcohol.
Let’s back up a moment! We are now in this church season of Epiphany, with the day of Epiphany being celebrated on January 6th. It is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ, and we got to celebrate it this year with Bishop Greg’s visit.
In general terms, what is an epiphany? From Wikipedia, an epiphany (from the ancient Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.
Last week we had the Gospel reading of that baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan (clearly an affirmation of the epiphany by John the Baptist that Jesus is the Son of God). Today is an epiphany to those following Jesus and a few other people hanging around the marriage party that something really special just happened with the water in those jars, and that Jesus was the instigator.
What epiphanies are you looking for during this season of Epiphany? I’m a member of our Diocesan Steering Team this year doing a strategic review of our Diocese—our mission and ministry not just at the diocesan level, but also how congregations and individuals do and maybe could work on God’s ministry in the world and among our church communities. An epiphany I got just yesterday at our meeting was that “there is more than one answer!” As much as I like to think I know the answer for almost anything I deal with, it is important to look for other answers that might be better answers than the ones I have. That is part of being in a community of Christians—to listen to and work with each other, and assume there are probably several answers to the challenges we face, and we need to find the best one, not just settle for the first one or the one provided by the most vocal person.
I hope we can all find some epiphany that helps us draw closer to Jesus and each other during this season of Epiphany. Try to look for and listen to each other and as we celebrate our worship to see what epiphanies are there. Jesus will help us to do that, just like he provided a real one for his disciples at that wedding! AMEN.