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.