(Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11)
Today is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. ‘Epiphany’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘appearance or manifestation’. This short season, following appropriately our celebration of the birth of Jesus, considers key moments in the story of Jesus where his hidden glory was manifest – moments, as our Old Testament and Psalm suggest – of revelation and light.
Over past two weeks we have considered the arrival of the wise men who pointed the way to the stable and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river accompanied by the opening up of heaven itself. Both incidents inspired wonder at what God might be doing in and around the person of Jesus.
And so we come to the famous first miracle of the Messiah, or, to use the terminology of our Gospel writer, the first ‘sign’.
Yes, this is a story that points somewhere. The wedding at Cana – famous for the changing of water into wine – is an indicator – to both those who were there, and to those of us who millennia later would gather expectantly around their testimony – of where to hunt for the‘glory’ of God (2:11).
Unsurprisingly, it is a pointer towards the person of Jesus.
So we will do well to listen carefully to this story. It is an indicator – or ‘shining light’ – with all the potential to reveal God’s character and God’s action. It is a story to inspire our faith and trust in Jesus.
Jesus, our story tells us, is unwittingly drawn into a problem that he, by rights, has nothing to do with. As Jesus tries to explain to Mary, the dwindling supply of wine is not his dilemma.
But, perhaps more importantly, this is not Jesus’ time. His ‘hour’ has not come – a term used again in John to introduce the events of the days leading to Jesus passion (13:1). There the ‘hour’ has come.
But for now Jesus does not seem ready to ‘reveal’ anything. He speaks as though any interference on his part would risk redrawing the divine timeline.
But the one doing the drawing is Jesus’ mother. Clearly Mary could be both insistent and persuasive. It is like she does not hear – or chooses not to hear his cosmic argument. There is a wedding underway and she sees a way to offer her – or at least her son’s – somewhat belated assistance.
And so, instead of continuing to converse with Jesus, Mary turns to the servants and articulates something of her faith: ‘Do whatever he tells you’. She has seen the dilemma, assigned it to her son, and left him there in front of bewildered slaves. It is the type of matchmaking only a mother could master!
I guess neither Jesus nor the servants had a better solution. So, they await his orders while Jesus looks around for containers big enough to quench the guest’s insatiable thirst. Those ‘six stone water jars’ with a combined capacity of somewhere between 450-680 litres, will hold enough.
They will soon contain 680 large bottles of the very best!
And so Jesus orders them filled with water and a sample taken to the chief steward. It is a risk on the servant’s part, but one they probably feel compelled to take.
As you know, the steward is mystified. Not only is there now enough but it is aged to perfection. The standard of this new wine far outstrips the bridegroom’s earlier aged offerings. So much so that he is sought out – in the middle of his own wedding – for an explanation.
But both the steward and the bridegroom are none the wiser. They have seen the light, but are unsure as to where it comes from. All they can do is laugh with the relief known only to those who have made a narrow and unexpected escape. They have, in a very real way, been saved.
But of course there are some in the know.
The servants, the ‘least of these’, stand silently in the background. They know who initiated this miracle. In a world of rank and order these outsiders have become insiders.
I imagine their bewildered gaze as they turn to Jesus once more. Surely they will never be able to see him as simply a fellow Galilean again. He has now been revealed as something more.
Of course, this same miracle is occurring in those who already identify themselves with Jesus. The disciples bracket this story – we are told of their presence at the outset, and of their increased faith at its close. Our gospel writer finishes with the comment: ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and the disciples believed in him”
Like the arrival of the wise men and the baptism of Jesus, this ‘first sign’ should also fill us with wonder, curiosity, and awe at who God is and what God is doing.
It seems that this is what the epiphany, appearance, and manifestation of Jesus is all about. These are God-moments inviting us to trust more deeply and fully. They graciously, gently, call us to trust in Jesus.
The story of Jesus turning the water into wine is a story of generosity, relationship, obedience, humility, miracle. But when we see it as more than a nice ‘story’ – that it reveals the character and activity of God – it takes on cosmic dimensions.
Yes, the God at the heart of all creation – and creation’s salvation – is working in our world like this.
Jesus’ actions here are a first glimpse – or taste – of the grace God is offering creation.