with Tony W. Cartledge
John 2:1-11

Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.

champagnetoast“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” — John 2:11

Of Water and Wine

During the age of prohibition, Baptists were in the forefront of the campaign to criminalize the making, sale, or use of intoxicating beverages, including wine. I own a rocking chair that once belonged to Josiah Bailey, who inherited the job as editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder in 1895 when his pastor/editor father C.T. Bailey died.

Josiah was 22 years old and a recent graduate of Wake Forest University. He became active in the temperance movement, and in 1903 was elected as leader of the “Anti-Saloon League.” He later became a lawyer and served as a U.S. senator from 1930 until his death in 1946. Josiah was so rigidly pious that his Senate colleagues nicknamed him “Holy Joe.” Care to guess how he would have voted on alcohol issues?

During the same period there were no doubt plenty of Baptists running moonshine, even at the risk of having their church membership revoked: alcohol use is one of many areas in which Baptists have differences of opinion. I have known of a few Baptist churches in which a member made homemade wine for communion, while most stick with grape juice. Jesus drank the real thing and even made it for others, as we learn from today’s text.

But that is not all we learn …

A poorly planned party(vv.1-3)

John’s Gospel differs in many ways from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as “synoptic Gospels” because they share many similarities. Before we get into the story, we should point out that this is the first in a series of miraculous signs done in Galilee that testified to Jesus’ identity. The signs play a central role in the organization of John’s Gospel (see “The Hardest Question” online for more).

John is the only gospel writer to include the story of Jesus attending a wedding in “Cana of Galilee,” a village not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Today both Nazareth and Cana are substantial Arab towns in the hill country west of the Sea of Galilee.

The story occurs after Jesus had called Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples: the account of Jesus’ calling of the disciples is also quite different in John. Jesus and his disciples had arrived in Cana “on the third day” after the call of Nathanael. While some see a foreshadowing of the resurrection here, John probably intended only to indicate that the miracle occurred soon after Jesus told Nathanael he would see amazing things (1:47-51).

The wedding probably involved some of Jesus’ relatives, and his new disciples would have been invited as extensions of the family. Custom dictated that relatives should contribute to the expenses of the wedding, either financially or through bringing food or wine. Jesus would have had an extra burden of contributing on his family’s and the disciples’ behalf – but the traveling ministry they had begun provided no income, depending on others for daily sustenance.

Could this be why Jesus’ mother came straight to Jesus to report that the wine had run out – or why she expected him to do something about it? Jesus and his followers had apparently been partaking of the wine without providing any of it. We should not assume that Mary expected Jesus to snap his fingers and turn water into wine: it’s more likely that she expected him to send his disciples to the wine shop with instructions to dig deep.

A most helpful guest(vv. 4-7)

Jesus’ curt response has often troubled readers who think he wasn’t being very kind to his mother. Actually, “Woman” was not as impolite a form of address as we might expect, and could imply affection.

Jesus typically used the term when addressing women, including the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter he healed (Matt 15:28), a crippled woman he healed on the Sabbath (Luke 13:12), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21), the woman caught in adultery (8:10), and Mary Magdalene following his resurrection (20:15). Jesus again addressed his mother Mary that way from the cross, when commending her to John’s care: “Woman, behold your son” (19:26).

Even so, one would not normally address his mother as “Woman,” so this likely suggests a shift in their relationship. Mary would never cease to be his mother, but the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was marked by his self-identification with all of humankind as the “Son of Man” (John 1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; and others).

“What concern is that to you and to me?” (v. 4a) translates a phrase that literally means “what to me and to you?” Jesus had bigger fish to fry than to worry about whether there was adequate wine at the wedding: “My hour has not yet come” (v. 4b).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “hour” usually refers to the revelation of his glory through the passion narrative of his arrest, death, and resurrection (see, for example, John 7:30, 8:20, 13:1, and 17:1). That can hardly be the case here, where it is more likely that Jesus has in mind the arrival of his public ministry and the beginning of the mighty works that would bring glory to him as the Messiah. His identity as the Messiah had been revealed in the previous chapter, however, and though Jesus appears to be downplaying his mother’s request for more wine, he knew the only way for him to provide it would be through non-traditional means.

So, while Jesus’ remark implies that he is not ready to act with power, that is precisely what he does. Mary, perhaps sensing Jesus’ willingness to help, instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them (v. 5). Did she assume that he was about to do something unusual?

The conversation must have taken place in an anteroom to the banquet hall: John notes that six stone water jars “for the Jewish rites of purification” were standing nearby (v. 6). Persons attending the banquet would ritually wash their hands before eating, so it was important that the water and the vessels containing it should be ceremonially “clean.”

Although carving the large open-mouthed jars from stone was far more labor-intensive than making them from pottery, rabbinic law held that vessels made of stone could not become ritually unclean. Any number of things could contaminate ceramic vessels, however, so they would have to be replaced often. This left stone as the material of choice for the purification jars.
The jars in question were not only made of stone, but also were quite large each with a volume of “two to three metretes.” A metretes was about nine gallons, so each jar would have contained 18-27 gallons of water. Diners used small juglets to dip water from the larger jars and pour it over their hands.

That Jesus had to tell the servants to fill the jars with fresh water may say something about the number of people present for the wedding.

A surprising, miraculous sign(vv. 8-11)

Once the stone jars were filled to the brim with water, Jesus told the servants to dip some out and take it to the “chief steward,” one we might call the master of ceremonies (v. 8). Whether this was a family member or a professional host is unclear and unimportant: what matters is that he was so impressed by the excellent quality of the wine that he called the bridegroom to express surprise that he had saved the best wine for last. For obvious reasons, most people would serve the best wine first, bringing out lower quality wine as guests drank more and their tastes became less sophisticated (vv. 9-10).

No response is recorded from either Jesus or the bridegroom, and we are not told if the wedding guests learned the miraculous origin of the wine or not. In fact, the parenthetical note that the servants knew the source, but the steward did not, implies that very few people were aware of what had happened. What matters to John is that Jesus’ disciples knew what Jesus had done, and the experience contributed to their faith: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).

Through this miraculous “sign,” Jesus manifested his glory and his creative power. Many scholars find it significant that the water used for old Jewish purification rituals became the new wine of the Messianic age. There was clearly a change coming, as Jesus’ ministry introduced the coming of the kingdom of God. The Gospels often speak of the coming kingdom through the metaphor of a feast or wedding banquet, as in Matt. 5:6, 8:11-12; Mark 2:19; Luke 22:15-18, 29-30a. In a vision of the eschatological future, the prophet Isaiah described the coming day as “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isa. 25:6).

The eschatological age that Isaiah and other prophets foretold was becoming known through the life and ministry of Jesus. John wanted early believers to see evidence of and to understand that the new covenant in Jesus, the Son of God, was superior to the old covenant. Although it is unlikely that the miracle at Cana should be seen as a pointer toward the Lord’s Supper, every time the followers of Jesus take the bread and wine of communion, we are reminded of the new wine Jesus brought into the world. BT

Resources to teach adult and youth classes are available at baptiststoday.org

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Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for January 17, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: John 2:1-11



Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session

Social media allows our students to share their life with their friends, family, and the rest of the world. They can share what they are doing, where they are going, what they are thinking, and even what they eating. All of this is points the focus to them. But what else could our students use social media for? How could ours students use social media as signs that point to God? What if you challenged your students to share how the see the fruits of the Spirit in their everyday lives? Have your students come up with an idea and create a hashtag to go along with it. Help your students to see how even social media can be used to point to where God is at work.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

“25 Signs You Listened to Christian Music Growing Up” from Blimey Cow via www.youtube.com

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: John 2:1-11