Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday in Great Lent

Sermon / Homily on John 2:1-11

A Sign to Faith

by Larry Broding

Gospel: St. John 2: 1-11

Have you ever had a moment of clarity? A moment when everything snapped into focus? Or a moment in which you could see things in perspective? What caused that moment?

Sometimes we can see beyond our immediate surroundings. We can see a greater truth. The spark for these times can be as simple as a pebble stuck in our shoe or a long, cool drink of water on a hot day. At those times, God breaks through. All it takes is a sign. A simple, sometimes common sign.

In a small hamlet, off the beaten path, the son of a carpenter gave a simple sign. That sign opened the eyes of those who followed him. And millions who came afterwards.

Popular Translation

Jesus invited Nathaniel to follow him.

1 Three days later, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother attended. 2 Jesus and the few followers he had were also invited.

3 When the wine ran out, Jesus' mother told him, "They don't have any wine left."

4 "Mother, don't get me involved in their problem." Jesus replied. "My time has not come yet."

5 The mother of Jesus turned to the servants and said, "Do whatever he tells you to do."

6 Six large stone containers sat there. Each container held between twenty and thirty gallons. Jews used containers like these to wash themselves before they prayed to God.

7 "Fill up the pots with water," Jesus told the servants. They brought and poured in enough water to fill all the containers to the brim. 8 "Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the wedding," Jesus said. And they did.

9 The man in charge did not know where the wine came from, but the servants did. After he tasted the water turned into wine, the man in charge called the bridegroom over to talk. 10 "Hosts usually serve their guests the expensive wine first." he said. "Then, after everyone has had a few glasses of wine, they serve everyday wine. But you have kept the expensive wine until now."

11 Jesus did his very first sign at the wedding in Cana. There, he revealed who he really was, and his followers placed their trust in him.

Jesus' first miracle is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. Yet, most people overlook the most important passage: Verse 11 (which tells the purpose of the story--faith).

Literal Translation

1 On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The mother of JESUS was there. 2 JESUS, (along with a small number of) his disciples, was also invited to the wedding. 3 When there was a lack of wine, his mother of JESUS said to him, "They do not have (any) wine." 4 JESUS said to her, "What (is this problem between) me and you, Woman? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you" 6 Six stone water pots (used for ritual) cleansing of Jews, containing (between) twenty and thirty gallons, were sitting there. 7 JESUS said to them, "Fill (up) the pots (with) water." And they filled them to the brim. 8 HE said to them, "Draw (some) out now and carry (it) to the steward in charge." And they carried (it to the steward). 9 The chief steward tasted the water having become wine, and he had not known from where it came. But the servants knew the water had been drawn out. The chief steward called the bridegroom (over) 10 and said to him, "Every man first places the best wine (before his guests), and when they might be drunk, the lesser (quality wine). You have kept the best wine until now." 11 Jesus performed this first of signs in Cana of Galilee, he revealed his glory, and his followers trusted in him.

2:2 "JESUS, (along with a small number of) his disciples, was also invited" While Jesus is the subject of this sentence (with its singular verb), the literal phrase "and his disciples" indicated Jesus' followers were also invited. The context of the wedding celebration argued from a small number of followers.

2:4 "What (is this problem between) me and you, Woman?" This statement has two Semitic phrases. "What to me and to you?" is a rebuke. Another way to translate it would be "Why is this my problem?"

"Woman," however, was not a rebuke or a sign of disrespect. In a culture that segregated the genders, the fact that his mother would address Jesus in public showed initiative. Jesus responded with deference. Indeed, the Semitic title "Woman" showed respect.

The combination of rebuke and respect was like the tension between the hidden glory (pre-ministry) and revealed glory (ministry) of Jesus. This tension was a theme of John when he wrote of Jesus' "hour."

2:6 "two or three measures" Each Semitic measure contained approximately 10 gallons or 40 liters.

2:8 "Draw (some) out now and carry (it) to the steward in charge." There were two issues stated in this sentence. First, when did the miracle happen? When Jesus instructed the stewards to pour the water into the jars? Or, when Jesus instructed the stewards to draw the liquid from the jars and take it to the steward? John does not indicate the time frame. His point is not the time of the miracle, but its realization.

The second issue lies in the chief steward. Some scholars insist the chief steward was a slave chosen to serve the tables. More likely, however, the chief steward was either a close friend of the family or the family's patron, who acted as a "master of ceremonies." Such a position carried great honor. See the commentary for more information.

2:10 "best wine" is literally "good wine" The comparative "good" in this context actually meant the superlative "best." The comparison between the good and a lesser is not a mere matter of quality. The "good" wine was a festival quality, reserved for celebrations like a wedding. The "lesser" was everyday drinking wine. The water-turned-wine drawn from the stone jars tasted like an expensive vintage.

2:11 "first of signs" The word "first" meant more than the beginning of a sequence. This sign was the paradigm that threw light on all other Jesus performed. This sign revealed the person of Jesus and his mission.

"he revealed his glory" The term "glory" referred to the reputation of the person (Jesus was a man of mighty signs). And it referred to the inner character (in this case, the divinity of Jesus). Here, image and substance met.


In a small community at the time of Jesus, weddings were regional affairs. They celebrated not only a wedding, but the union of two clans. The focus was not only on the bride and groom, but on the patriarchs of the clans.

Within the wedding, the job of the "master of ceremonies" (i.e., the "head waiter" in this story) was a position of honor and power. The MC controlled the invitation list, the order and flow of the ceremony, and seating arrangements. Since, the MC might be the family's representative (i.e., accountant, lawyer, and economic negotiator all rolled into one), the position might be paid.

Invited to the party, Jesus and his mother should have been minor characters, but they move to center stage because of a problem: a wine shortage. This was a critical situation, because the honor of the bride and groom, the patriarchs of the two clans joined by the union, and the headwaiter were at stake. The mother of Jesus stepped in to save the day. [1-3]

Jesus objected to his mother's request; the "hour" (referring to the time of his death) was to be the time of revelation and faith, but his mother wanted a miracle now! So, Jesus gave in. [4-6]

The six stone jars were connected to Jewish ritual washings. Such washings made the person clean, "kosher." Many scholars have put an emphasis upon the number of jars, "six," which represented an unfulfilled state in the time of Jesus. The number "six" conveyed a message. Judaism lacked its Messiah and the Kingdom he represented. Jesus used the jars (representing the tradition of Judaism) to reveal a taste of God's kingdom. In this sense, Jesus completed and transformed the traditions of Judaism. His action completed what was missing.

The water turned wine has many meanings. God's kingdom was to be a feast with endless wine and merriment. Water has a baptism motif, while wine is Eucharistic. Both foreshadow the water and blood (wine) that flow from Jesus' side at his death. Even nature of the new wine (the new revelation of Jesus) is superior to that of the old wine that ran out (the old revelation of Law and the prophets). All these meanings have one source: Jesus. [7-10]

Now we can see the importance of verse 11. The sign in Cana was the first revelation of Jesus in John's gospel and the first opportunity for faith from his followers. The sign revealed the Kingdom and its Messiah.

Catechism Theme: Worship and Sacrament

In John's gospel, Jesus revealed his glory through "signs:" objects and action that point to something greater than themselves. Jesus gave the Church seven particular "signs " through which he reveals his glory to the worship community. We call these "signs" sacraments.

A sacrament is a physical sign (object and/or action) through which God reveals Himself to us. The Catholic Church has sacraments to express a mystery, something that we cannot fully understand. In the case of the Eucharist, for example, eating and drinking expresses the fact that we are united with God; the act of eating and drinking does not totally explain how this unity came about. We are certain that God is present in the sacrament (for example, we truly receive the Body and Blood of Christ) through faith. (1111)

As Christians, we worship God the Father for creating and saving us. God the Father sent us his Son as a sign of his love. God the Father sent us his Spirit to give us faith and the privilege to be called "children of God." (1110) The Holy Spirit calls the Church members together for worship, makes Christ present in the sacraments of the Church, and helps the members of the Church grow together in love. (1112)

Besides the sacraments, what signs do God use to reveal himself in your life? How does he use them? How do these signs help your prayer life to grow?

Jesus gave his followers a sign that revealed who he was and the nature of his mission. Something as simple as a sip of wine opens the mind, the heart, and the spirit to He Who is Greater. And causes the one drinking to fall down in worship. This is root of "sacrament."

Jesus gave us a sign of his true nature. He has given us many others. Let us celebrate with these signs. And know that HE is with us.

Reflect on the sacraments. How have the sacraments helped you come closer to the Lord? How will you celebrate the presence of the Lord in sacrament this week?

Copyright 1999 -2007 Larry Broding, word-sunday.com

See Also:

Satan's Banquet
by Charles H. Spurgeon

Devotional Thoughts for Kothine Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

The Water Blushed
by George Vergese

Water Turned in To Good Wine at Cana: Spiritual Implications
by Dn. Monsy Manimalethu Jacob

The Wedding At Cana
by Fr. Dr. Vadasseril Varghese

180 Gallons of Grace
by Edward F. Markquart

A Taste of New Wine
by Edward F. Markquart

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 1st Sunday in Great Lent (Wedding at Cana)

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