The story of the wedding at Cana in John 2, the account of Jesus turning water into wine, is one of the best known episodes in the New Testament, if not the whole Bible. The author, John, tells us that this was the first miraculous sign by which God revealed his glory (v. 11). Ever thought about what it means that the first sign God gives to reveal his glory, the substance of his character, is the production of alcohol?
Let’s set the scene. In the story, Mary, Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding. Some way through the celebrations, Mary alerts Jesus to the fact that the hosts have run out of wine, to which Jesus replies, “Woman, why do you involve me?” (v.4). I would love to know with what sort of tone Jesus said this, it seems like such a curious thing for him to say! Was he absorbed in a fascinating conversation that he didn’t want to wrench himself away from? Was he just generally tired of his mother’s interference?? I’m not sure, and we’ll never be sure, because his question is not answered. We don’t know why Mary involves Jesus here. She ignores his question, giving instructions to the servants simply to do whatever he tells them. They obey, filling some bath sized jars with water, which Jesus turns into fine wine.
How can it be that John associates this act with the revelation of God’s glory? I mean, seriously?? There’s a wedding. The party is in full swing, probably has been for days, and what started out as a copious amount of alcohol turns out not to be enough. The pressure is on the hosts to keep their guests fed and watered. Why should God help out?
Besides, by the time Mary intervenes, it’s quite likely that Jesus is surrounded by people who are drunk or heading that way. As the master of the banquet says to the bridegroom in verse 10, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink…’ The presenting problem in John 2 is that both the good wine and the cheaper wine have been consumed. It’s all gone. It’s in this context that Jesus says, ‘Okay, you’ve run out of booze. Why do you involve me?’
We don’t know why Mary thought her son should be involved in this domestic crisis. John merely tells us that this spectacular deed – turning water into wine – is the first sign through which Jesus, God in the flesh, revealed his glory. Basically, John is telling us that the glory of holy God is revealed first and foremost in an act of extraordinary, controversial and extravagant blessing, something designed not to put Israel on the map or tighten up the moral code; something designed to keep the party going, or perhaps to get the party truly started.
The wedding at Cana is not about taking care not to overdo it (that’s for another time and place). And it’s not a story to tell if you want people to believe that the emphasis in Christianity is on sin.
According to John, God’s first sign to the world, his first attempt to show people what he’s really like, is to give them more of something they really enjoy, more wine and more of the best, more goodness, more fun, more life, more reasons to celebrate. He gives them more when they thought they’d had enough. Not mindless excess, but the overflowing abundance of life.
Why did Mary involve God? We don’t know. But God got involved at her request. The wedding at Cana shows us not only that God isn’t afraid to associate his glory with something earthy, like wine, but that the divine Creator submits himself to be moved by his creatures. Jesus told Mary that his time had not yet come (v. 4) yet at her prompting, he acts. Wine for them, glory for him. In some mysterious way, God’s heavenly glory is intricately connected with good things on earth. Next time you order a bottle for friends, remember that.