Water into Wine (John 2:1-11)

Water transformed into wine is probably Jesus’s most famous miracle – it’s the one that gets referred to by comedians because, hey, being able to turn water into wine is pretty useful, right?

Thing is, it’s a miracle I’ve never quite been able to get my head around. John 2:1-11 calls it the first of Jesus’s miraculous ‘signs’ but there are a couple of things about it I don’t get.

The context: Jesus and his family are at a wedding when the hosts realise they’re running low on wine. This is a major social blunder, inviting gossip and mockery for years to come. You’re supposed to have enough wine for a wedding celebration, and if you haven’t, well, you’re either stingy or inhospitable. To put a modern slant on it, material for the next five years for the producers of Don’t Tell The Bride.

Mary finds out about this and figures that if anyone will know what to do, it’s Jesus – fair enough. Thing is, Jesus seems reluctant to do anything – his time has not yet come, ‘his time’ being John’s term for the crucifixion and resurrection. It’s almost as if his mission hasn’t quite started in earnest, that performing miracles starts the countdown.

Which is interesting, because there’s a theory that, because Jesus’s disciples are also at the wedding, possibly unexpectedly, the wine running low is actually their fault. Which may be an explanation for Mary basically ignoring Jesus’s reluctance and putting the ball firmly back in his court.

Regardless, Jesus ends up helping – he tells the hosts to fill huge ceremonial jars with water, which he proceeds to transform into wine. It’s good wine too – everyone else brings out the good stuff first, but at this wedding, they’ve saved the best for last. What could have been a social disaster becomes an occasion for the hosts to receive gushing compliments. But has the clock started ticking?

So maybe, perhaps more than any of the other miracles, this is a collision between the everyday and the divine, a wedding and the Kingdom of God. Wine in the Old Testament is a symbol of God’s blessing – obedience to God will lead to an outpouring of wine throughout the land. There’s something going on underneath the surface, and the provision of wine is about more than just saving someone’s blushes. There may also be parallels with the first miracle of Moses – he transformed water into blood as an act of judgement, Jesus transforms water into wine as an act of grace and blessing.

And yet let’s not overlook the hosts of the wedding. They were facing public humiliation, and yet Jesus comes along and saves them from that. Sure, the miracle may have symbolic importance, but it has immediate social value as well. Maybe that’s a lesson from the story we don’t think about too often – Christians shouldn’t be in the business of letting people be humiliated. I know that’s a difficult teaching, given how snarky we can get in proving our modern-day relevance, or how aggressive we can get when defending whatever belief takes priority over love and grace this week, but there you go.

And so maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with the ‘meaning’ of this miracle – it’s an intersection between two worlds that, through the mission of Jesus, are in the process of being made one. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the implications of that, hard to see what’s happening with Jesus’s enigmatic statements and Mary’s refusal to take “no” for an answer.

But at it’s core, this is a miracle of blessing, of love, of grace. And these are things to which we need to cling.

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2 thoughts on “Water into Wine (John 2:1-11)

  1. Your contrast between Moses (judgment) and Jesus (grace) is appropriate, given Jn. 1:17 (For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ). This contrast is then seen shortly in Jn. 1:19-32, where John the Baptist contrasts his baptizing with water to the one who comes after him who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
    You also point out how Jesus’ “time” or “hour” is linked later with his death and resurrection. Jesus speaks of this hour as the time for him to be glorified, and return to his former glory in heaven (Jn. 12:21,27-28; 17:1-4). And the main grace Jesus will give after he is glorified is the Spirit, the living water given to those who thirst and believe in him (Jn. 7:37-39). Thus, when he tells the Samaritan woman in Jn. 4 about living water, he is alluding to this gift, when people will worship in Spirit and truth.
    In his extended teaching to his disciples just before his death (in Jn. 14-17), he speaks especially of the “Paraclete” he will give to them after he leaves, describing this grace as “the Spirit of truth” (three times). So the grace and truth Jesus gives after his hour has come is above all the Spirit of truth. Jesus’ (and John the Baptist’s) use of symbolism relating to water and drink point us to the first of his signs as a symbol of this primary grace to be given when his hour has come.
    In Jn. 2 his hour has not yet come, but Jesus quenches their thirst as a sign that points to the future grace of the Spirit. In contrast to the jars of water (for purification, compare John the Baptist’s baptism), the good wine Jesus gives manifests his glory to his disciples, who believed in him.

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