by David Ewart
Gospel: St. John 2: 1-11
This story is the first self-revelation by Jesus in John.
In John, these sort of actions - changing water into wine, for example - are not "miracles" - they are SIGNS. John does NOT want us to look at them; he wants us to look at what they point to. It is a complete mis-reading of this text to respond, "Wow! I wonder HOW he did that?" John wants us to respond, "Wow! I wonder WHO did that?" Wasting time discussing the sign is like going to a fabulous restaurant and spending the evening talking about the menu instead of enjoying the feast. (Click here to read my brief note giving an Introduction to John.)
Verses 1 and 2. "On the third day," is the first of two "on the third day's" that book-end John's telling us about Jesus.
The phrasing, "the mother of Jesus was there" at the wedding, and that "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited," suggests that his mother was there to help the women of the hosting household with the wedding preparations, and Jesus and his disciples were there as guests.
Assisting, being invited, and attending a wedding were social obligations that established / maintained / demonstrated one's social status and honour. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all there because of some existing family or neighborly relationship.
Verses 3 and 4. "When the wine ran out ..." is not a comment on unusually heavy drinking at the wedding. It indicates that the host either has a shameful lack of friends who were socially obliged to bring sufficient wine as gifts (one of whom would have been Jesus). Or the host's friends have shamed themselves - and the host - by failing to provide sufficient wine.
Jesus' mother attempts to discretely redress this by speaking directly to Jesus. However, such an approach would break social taboos against women speaking to men in public places - especially since the topic is a woman's social responsibility - serving the food. The comment is certainly a challenge to Jesus' honor. And Jesus, at least initially, rebuffs her. (And remember that this "third day" is not that second "third day" which is indeed the time when Jesus' hour comes.)
Malina (pages 67-68, see footnote below) makes note of a pattern that appears in John.
Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke where Jesus almost always only takes action at the request of others; John is almost always the reverse - it is Jesus who initiates. And when others do make requests:
Jesus' response is always one of delaying reluctance, followed by compliance,
and then conflict with hostile Judeans.
We see this pattern 4 times: here (see Verses 13 and following); John 4:46 to 5:1 and 5:18; John 7:2-10; and lastly, the raising of Lazarus, John 11:1-8.
There is no explanation given in John for this pattern.
Malina speculates, "Perhaps John uses this pattern to inform members of his (John's) group how to deal with their relatives and other natural in-group persons." (Page 68.)
My speculation is that it has more to do with Jesus' reluctance to perform signs for those who request them- and that it is precisely the performing of signs that increases Jesus' public profile and honor which bring him into conflict with the authorities.
Verses 5 to 10. Notice that the "sign" is "performed" in completely natural, normal actions. But it is "performed" at the direction of Jesus - as ordinary people do ordinary things that follow Jesus' commands. Nothing "magic" is said or done by Jesus.
The sign is also performed in plain sight but totally unobserved: Jars are filled with water, a sample is drawn out, the sample is tasted and found to be wine.
But since this is a sign and not a miracle, the point is not, "Wow! How did that happen?" The point is, "Wow! Who did that?" Which is precisely the point John makes in Verse 11:
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, ... and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed (into) him.
As Malina comments:
In this Gospel (of John), a sign is something that reveals who Jesus really is.
Jesus' signs are self-disclosures that provoke interpersonal affectionate
"Revealed his glory" means revealed Jesus' honor / his status with God. It demonstrates Jesus' loyalty to his followers - his commitment to them. And invokes a reciprocal commitment by them to Jesus.
As John himself says in John 20:31, his goal in writing down this sign is not that we should be amazed, or even that we should believe in Jesus. Rather his goal is that we should bond with Jesus / abide in Jesus - and receive for ourselves the life that is in Jesus. John's goal is that "seeing" will lead to life in all its abundance.
Lectionary blogging: John 2: 1-11
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Exegetical Notes on John 2:1-11
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