#21: Water into Wine

John 2:1–12

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all follow a similar path. Jesus leaves the scene of his baptism and temptations down in Judea and moves north for his main ministry in Galilee. John’s Gospel gives a different shape and order to things. It describes some of Jesus’ early visits to Jerusalem that the other three do not mention and provides new stories such as him meeting the woman at the well and the turning of the water into wine.

Weddings are massive, though quite intimidating events. For many they are the biggest day of their lives. Food and drink, early morning nerves and late night revels, wedding dresses and best outfits, tears and laughter all combine in these love celebrations and launching into new lives.

So John’s story is about a big fat Jewish wedding day. It can be brilliant or it can be a disaster, whichever it is it will certainly be big. This tale has always struck me as a real embarrassment for all those rather grey, anti-drink, anti-fun, overly-religious folks who are not keen on people having a good time. Of course alcohol and partying can get out of hand. For several years we ran an AA group in our church, it opened my eyes to how booze wrecks so many lives and families. For many, however, they are part of what it means to live a good and full life. The company of others, good food and drink, greeting and meeting, celebration and laughter, music and dance, praise and prayer, poetry and rock ‘n’ roll are all colourful parts of God’s colourful world. Here then is Jesus, half-way through a wedding celebration, they have already drunk quite a lot of wine, and he is turning water into even more of the stuff. Only Jesus could get away with it. This is a great life affirming, let’s have a party moment.

My understanding of the story took on a whole new relevance a few years ago when a friend asked me to give the talk at his wedding. I eventually found myself standing before Matthew and Anna, a beautiful and ‘want to do it God’s way’ couple. I made a couple of jokes about Matthew’s disreputable past and how Anna was far too good for him, both sets of parents nodded in agreement. Then I told the story of water into wine and looking deep into their eyes asked the question, ‘So do you want your marriage, your friendship, your romance, love-life, running of a shared home and walking with God to be like water or wine?’ Water is ok, it does the job and quenches the thirst, but it’s a bit thin and flat. On the other hand dark red wine, full of taste, warmth and inner mystery, well, it is of another dimension.

Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there is a story of a real wedding, but it takes on an added symbolism. It is in effect a sign, a signpost to Jesus’ heavenly impact. Here we see Jesus touching lives, be they married or single, young or old and his touch turning them from water into wine. And there are lots of other little details in the story for you to think about, such as ‘on the third day’ (echoes of the resurrection), the appearance of Mary (we don’t see her again in John until the crucifixion), the obedience of the servants and the use of ‘purification jars’ (where is the purification in our lives?)

Now I am no wine expert (although even I can tell the difference between water and wine). I do, however, have a rough idea that to produce good wine you need three things:

  • First, plenty of juicy fruit.
  • Secondly, hours and hours of glorious sunshine.
  • Thirdly, lots of patience.

So where is the fruit, the sunshine and the patience as your years, character and lifestyle go from water to wine?

I always think wine is a great symbol.  Life and love, fruit and friendship, long meals and late nights.  They are all there in every glass. The symbolism flows throughout the ministry of Jesus.  Here water is turned into wine, later on we will all be welcomed as branches into his vine, and there will be talk of new wine in old wine skeins.  Later still, we will read of tenants stealing the profits of the master’s vineyard, and finally before his death he will share the one cup of wine with his disciples.

Dear Lord Jesus,
As you turned the water into wine,
So may you turn the water of my marriage, of my singleness,
Of my love affair, of my sexuality,
Of my hopes and dreams,
Of my past and future, into wine.
Take the OK greyness of my life and transform it with your sunshine and warmth.
Help me to be patient as the fermenting goes on.
That I might be filled and changed by your touch,