The wedding at Cana is recorded as the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of John refers to the miracles as signs, because in this Gospel, the portrait of Jesus that emerges is one in which Jesus’ every word and every action points people to the Father. Everything that Jesus does in this gospel reveals something about God and about the Kingdom of God. And the more we explore this story, the more it shows us about the Kingdom of God.
We learn first that God operates on God’s own timetable, which often looks nothing like ours. The wedding celebration is winding down. Weddings in first-century Palestine were not modest affairs lasting an hour or two. They typically went on for the best part of a week. So if they’ve run out of wine, it’s probably near the end of that week. But even with a strong hint from Mary, Jesus is disinclined to act. John’s Gospel gives us a Jesus who is very much in charge of the movement of the plot. Jesus directs what happens and when it happens. Repeatedly he will insist that his hour has not yet come. And in this portrait of Jesus, he will address his mother in this fashion only twice, the other occasion being when he is hanging on the cross. At the beginning and at the end of his ministry, he will speak to his mother like this.
That distinction points us to death even in the midst of life, to endings in the midst of beginnings. Amid the joy and celebration of the new beginning that a wedding symbolizes, we are invited to look ahead to what comes to us all. And we are invited to remember that God has charge over our whole lives, all the beginnings and all the endings. And our lives unfold with God’s timing.
Even as Jesus refuses to act, that doesn’t slow Mary down. Trusting in God’s timing, she moves forward in faith. How often are you and I that trusting? How often have we begun in prayer with good intentions of letting God be in control but end up having the hardest time pulling our fingers off the steering wheel? What might happen if we entrusted each day to God and then went about that day as if all our worries were actually in God’s hands?
So in addition to being shown the completeness of God’s timing, this story also reveals to us how to pray. Mary simply states the problem. She does not tell Jesus what to do. She does not come to him with a ready-made solution or ask him to do anything. She just goes about her day.
And in what happens next, we are shown that the Kingdom of God is all around us. To experience it we do not need to travel great distances or surround ourselves with rare and costly possessions. The most simple and common elements remind us that the presence of God is always close at hand, as ubiquitous as air and water.
Water, of course, also points us to God. Water is so necessary for survival that we can survive without food longer than we can survive without water. Why? Because our bodies are 70% water. Water is an integral part of our makeup. And so it might be with God. If we go through our days as if God were integrated into our every word and deed, how different might you and I find ourselves?
And working with the most common and easily found elements – six stone water jars used for purification – Jesus shows us a subtle but important aspect of life in the Kingdom of God. Unlike with other miracles, Jesus doesn’t appear to do or say anything. The water jars are simply in the presence of Jesus, and that is transformative. Again, what would our daily lives look like if we were aware of the abiding presence of Jesus?
Some years ago, the church we were attending had a Jesus doll that was loaned out to different families a week at a time. Families were encouraged to take pictures of Jesus accompanying them, eating popcorn with them, watching them at work, and share their experiences with the congregation. When it was our turn, I remember feeling a noticeable difference in our home because of the presence of Jesus. Just having that doll was a tangible reminder that Jesus was always with us. We found ourselves slower to anger and quicker to forgive when Jesus was in the room.
It’s worth noticing, then, that when the servants bring the water jars to Jesus, he does nothing, says nothing – yet when the steward draws the dipper from the jar, the water has been transformed into wine. At the table, we believe that the bread and wine are transformed by the real presence of Christ. Imagine what those around us would experience if you and I began to allow ourselves to be transformed by Christ’s simple presence? Ideally, the presence of Christ within us should be transformative. Do you and I behave differently, watch what we say and do because our life within the family of God has transformed us? Can they know we are Christians by our love? Does the presence of Christ so close to us, within our hearts, transform us as the water in the jars is transformed by the simple proximity of Jesus?
Let’s talk about those water jars. The text describes six stone water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification. These were not Mason jars. They were more like rain barrels, and they typically held about thirty gallons each. So this is perhaps the key point, the critical aspect of God and the Kingdom of God that Jesus chooses to reveal in this setting. And that is not just the abundance but the ridiculous, the extravagant abundance of God. When God provides, it is not a trickle. It is instead a great rushing, roaring waterfall, more than we need, more than we dreamed of. And that’s so very true. God is constantly pouring his presence and blessings and gifts into our lives, so much more than we can even imagine. One of our major stumbling blocks in our relationship with God is that we are limited by what we can think of and what we can believe.
You and I, by ourselves, are capable of extraordinary grace, deeply moving generosity, incredible empathy. But even the most heartwarming narratives of love, kindness, and altruism pale before the boundless extravagant abundance of God.
Throughout this Gospel, throughout his public ministry, Jesus will repeatedly demonstrate the ridiculous abundance of God. So much more wine than is needed. Twelve baskets full of leftover loaves and fishes. So many fish hauled up that they break the net. Why is that?
It’s possible that God pours out grace upon us in an overwhelming flood because we are so empty, so parched, so incomplete without it. The abundance shows us what grace from God looks like, what it feels like. The ridiculous quantities demonstrate more clearly than anything else could that we are limited by our own imaginations and that God’s love is infinite. You and I have experienced what it feels like to run out. To find that someone’s actions or words are the last straw. To find that we simply cannot summon the energy for one more action. To declare that something has gotten on our last nerve. To insist that we’re at the end of our rope.
I think that we are so accustomed to everything in our lives being finite and measurable that we struggle with the concept of always having more to give. But again and again in John’s Gospel, Jesus demonstrates that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. In the very next chapter, he will tell the Samaritan woman that those who drink of the Water of Life will never again thirst. In the chapter after that, he will invite the cripple at the Pool of Bethsaida to find more abilities and more opportunities than he ever imagined. In the eleventh chapter, he will stop Mary and Matha’s tears by demonstrating that there is always time for one more glimpse, one more encounter, one more embrace.
When Christ is close to you and to me in our ordinary, unremarkable lives, we are given the gift of the infinite. We get so much love poured into us that nothing will do but to pour it out onto others lest we drown. What would it feel like to go through each day compelled to look upon everyone we encounter with infinite love, infinite patience, infinite understanding? What if you and I chose not to save the best for last?