Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday in Great Lent

Sermon / Homily on John 2:1-11

Lectionary blogging: John 2: 1-11

by John Petty, Progressive Involvement

Gospel: St. John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Translation:

And on the third day, a marriage happened in Cana of Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there, and also Jesus was called, and his disciples, into the wedding. And they were not having wine because the marriage wine had been completed. After that, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." Jesus said to her, "What to me and you, woman? My hour is not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever he says to you, you do."

But there were six stone water-jars there, set according to the Judean cleansing, each containing twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the water-pots with water." And they filled them to the brim. And he said to them, "Now draw out and bring to the governor of the feast." And they brought.

But just as the governor of the feast tasted the water that had become wine, and he did not know where it came--but the servants knew, the ones having drawn the water--the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every person gives the good wine first, and when they were drunk, the lesser (wine). You have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, first of signs, in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory, and his disciples trusted into him.

The Third Day

When the early Christians heard the expression "the third day," their minds would have naturally gone to the resurrection. That Jesus was raised "on the third day" belongs to the earliest resurrection traditions. Therefore, by opening the story with "on the third day," we are invited to consider what follows in light of the resurrection.

"And on the third day, a marriage happened..."--gamos egeneto. Marriage and the marriage banquet are eschatological images. Isaiah 62, for example, says that the land of Judea will no longer be called "desolate," but will instead be called "married" (62:4-5). Isaiah 25 speaks of the worshipping community on Mount Zion at the end of time enjoying "a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear" (25:6).

Similarly, in the New Testament, many of Jesus' parables in the synoptic gospels feature a wedding banquet. In the Johannine literature, the book of Revelation makes the connection explicit: "for the marriage of the lamb has come...blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the lamb" (19:7,9).

"And on the third day, a marriage happened..." Indeed it did. In the resurrection of Jesus, the reconciliation--the "marriage"--between God and humanity is complete, and the people bask in overwhelming joy and bountiful life which is symbolized by the abundance of wine. (See Amos 9:13-14, Hosea 14:7, Jeremiah 31:12, Enoch 10:19.) In 2 Baruch 29, this lavish abundance is described with exuberance:

The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousand fold and on each vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster a thousand grapes, and each grape produce (120 gallons) of wine. (2 Bar 29:5)

"They have no wine."

The "mother of Jesus was there." Mary is introduced for the first time in the fourth gospel, though she is never explicitly named. An early legend, c. AD 300, suggests that Mary might have been the aunt of the groom, allegedly John, son of Zebedee. In this legend, Salome was said to be the mother of John and sister of Mary. (This would, incidentally, make John, son of Zebedee, the cousin of Jesus.) This seems unlikely. It would explain, however, Mary's concern with the arrangements.

The mother of Jesus told him, "They have no wine." Fr. Ray Brown refers to the wedding custom of bringing gifts of wine and passes on an interpretation that Mary was perhaps chiding Jesus for not bringing wine--in other words, "they have no wine" because you didn't bring any, and instead, brought twelve people with you who helped drink up what wine there was! (Brown, it should be noted, does not subscribe to this theory.)

Brown does suggest, however, that Mary's statement is a commentary on "the barrenness of Jewish purifications." In the episode at Cana, Jewish ritual life is not able to bring abundance. It fails. The marriage banquet goes "flat."

"They have no wine," says Mary, which means they have no life and no zest. As the fourth gospel had just said, "From his (Christ's) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (1:16). At Cana, as in the resurrection, Christ will give what the law cannot.

"Jesus said to her, 'What to me and you, woman? My hour is not yet come.'" The expression--ti emoi kai soi--is a semitic saying with a range of meaning from simple indifference, to turning away interference from another person, to warding off threat or danger. No matter which, the stated reason for this expression is because "my hour is not yet come."

In the fourth gospel, the "hour" is associated with the time surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. The "hour" is a time of darkness and death, and a time which calls for trust and fidelity. When that "hour" actually comes, Mary will make her only other appearance in the fourth gospel. Standing by the cross, she is a figure of faith. Here, at Cana, she is likewise a figure of faith. She says, "Whatever he says to you, you do."

Excursus on the role of women in the fourth gospel:

What about the brusque feel of Jesus' use of the word "woman" addressed to his mother? It is not an expression of disrespect for Mary. Quite the contrary, it is an affirmation of women.

Jesus relates to his mother not as child to parent, but as adult to adult. The parent-child relationship is one in which the adult is obviously in the superior position. If Jesus addresses Mary as "mother," it affirms a child to parent relationship, with Mary in the superior position. In addressing Mary as "woman," Jesus affirms an adult-to-adult relationship with his mother, a relationship of equality and mutuality.

This is entirely consistent with the positive portrayal of women throughout the fourth gospel. In chapter four, the Samaritan woman at the well could be said to be the very first apostle. The Samaritans believed through her witness (4:39). Witness is a major theme of the fourth gospel. In chapter one, a key figure, John the Baptist, "witnesses to the light" (1:7-8). As a fellow "witness", the Samaritan woman is in good company indeed.

In chapter eleven, the first confession of faith is spoken by Martha (11:27). (Aside: Why do we make such a big deal about Peter's confession of faith while ignoring Martha's?) Also in chapter eleven, we are told that Jesus "loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (11:5). In the entire fourth gospel, this is the only time that it is specifically stated that Jesus "loved" some particular person, and when he does, two out of the three people named are women.

In chapter twelve, it is Mary of Bethany who understands what is happening and properly anoints Jesus for his burial. In chapter twenty, the first appearance of the Risen Jesus is to Mary Magdalene. She is the first to say the great words, "I have seen the Lord" (20:18).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears twice in the fourth gospel--the wedding at Cana, and the foot of the cross. In each case, she is a model of fidelity. Fr. Ray Brown, in the Community of the Beloved Disciple, argues that Mary and the Beloved Disciple (the author of the fourth gospel) were the central figures of what he calls "the Johannine community," a group of Jesus' followers that was distinct from the Jerusalem-centered church and whose sacred book was the fourth gospel. How interesting that in at least one very early Christian community, the one centered in the fourth gospel, a woman had status equal with that of Jesus' other male disciples.

In summary, women play important and central roles throughout the fourth gospel. Jesus' closest personal relationships were with women. They "get it" when the men often do not. For Jesus to address his mother as "woman" is an affirmation, not a denigration.

"Water become wine"

The six stone water jars represent the law of Moses. It is not enough. (The number six is one less than seven, which is the number of completion. Thus, six is a human number and less than complete.) The juxtaposition of Moses and Christ had been introduced just previously (1:16). Now, we have a direct confrontation. Wes Howard-Brook notes that, so far in the fourth gospel, six days have unfolded and comments:

Suddenly, the problem of the paucity of wedding wine is transformed into an issue of ritual-run-dry. For the first time, the (fourth) gospel presents Jesus in confrontation with the Law. The six jars are juxtaposed with the six days of the gospel's first week: the old order is being replaced by the new.

Jesus then gives two instructions--first, to fill the empty water-pots with water, and second to draw some out. Each time, it is stated explicitly that the servants did what he told them to do. They had obviously heard Mary's words--"Whatever he says to you, you do"--and did exactly what she said.

The "water become wine" was taken to the "governor of the feast"--architrixlinos, the one in charge of the banquet. He didn't know where it came from, but the servants did. This happens quite often throughout the scripture: the ones on top don't know what's going on, while the ones at the bottom do. (In the story of the prophet Elisha and Namaan the Syrian, for example, the King of Israel didn't know about Elisha, but Namaan's wife's servant girl did (2 Kings 5:1-14).)

The "governor of the feast" calls the bridegroom and expresses what sounds like surprise that the bridegroom would be serving the best wine when he didn't need to. "Every person" serves good wine first, then brings out the Ripple later, when the people are too tanked to notice. The "good wine"--the wine that gives what the law cannot, the wine that has not run dry but is "filled to the brim"--is here now.

"First of signs"

The fourth gospel closes the episode by naming this the "first of signs" wherein Jesus "manifested his glory" and "his disciples trusted into him."

Prior to the resurrection of Jesus, there are seven "signs" in the fourth gospel. If the number seven is the number of completion and wholeness, then the seven signs of the fourth gospel, taken together, give us a complete picture of Jesus. (After Easter, there is an additional sign, the eighth one, which is a sign of the new creation.)

The first sign is the wedding at Cana where Jesus revealed his "glory" and his disciples "trusted" in him. The story of the raising of Lazarus in chapter eleven is the seventh "sign." In the raising of Lazarus, as at Cana, God is "glorified" and the disciples will "trust." Thus, the "signs" begin and end in glory and faith.

See Also:

180 Gallons of Grace
by Edward F. Markquart

A Taste of New Wine
by Edward F. Markquart

A Sermon on John 2:1-11 (Wedding at Cana)
by Martin Luther

Whatever He Says to Do, You Do It
by Jerry Goebel

Exegetical Notes on John 2:1-11
by Brian Stoffregen

The Marriage At Cana: Gospel Analysis
by Edward F. Markquart

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

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