The Divine Lamp

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More Notes On John 2:1-12, The Wedding At Cana

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 16, 2010

One may wish to read my previous post on John 2:1-12 which looked at the context and structure of the passage.

Jn 2:1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

On the third day is an allusion to the last day mentioned; the day on which Jesus met Philip and said to Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (see Jn 1:43-51).

Some scholars see a reference to 7 days in 1:19-2:1, and hold that John is hinting at a new week of creation, thus the Jerome Biblical Commentary: “Similarly, it is surely no accident that the first witness of the Baptist (Jn 1:19ff.) is climaxed seven days later in Jesus’ own witness to Himself, in the first manifestation of his glory at Cana” (JBC., 63:31; see also 63:48).

Father Francis J. Moloney, in his Sacra Pagina Commentary on the Gospel of John sees something else in the time references.  Most notably, he see the third day reference of Jn 2:1 as an allusion to Exodus 19-24 where the ten commandments and Sinai legislation are given and God manifests his glory on the third day.

Parallels between these Exodus chapters and John 2:1-12 are the following:
The third day: Ex 19:10-11, 15Jn 2:1.

“All the lord has said we will do” (Ex 19:8; 24:3, 7)…”Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

The Lord reveals His glory (Ex 19:16-19; 24:17)…”Manifested His Glory” (Jn 2:11).  Note:  Ex 19: 16 speaks of a thick cloud (Greek: kabed anan) descending onto Sinai.  Kabed is virtually identical to kabod (glory) used in Ex 24:17.  The Greek doxa used in Jn 2:11 is equivalent.

The ten commandments and the Sinai legislation are God’s words and they reveal God’s will, focusing on man’s relation with God and with his fellow man. The Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the same in His Person, teaching, and work (see especially Jn 13:33-14:31). 

A marriage at Cana in Galilee.  Even among the poorer classes wedding feasts would be quite elaborate, with many relatives and neighbors contributing to help the couple. 

The mother of Jesus was there.  This detail, mentioned at the very beginning of the episode, hints that she will have a roll to play in what is about to be narrated. 

Jn 2:2  Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.

Some are of the opinion that the Greek may suggest that the invitation was hospitable rather than formal, i.e., they were not originally expected as having been formally invited, but the fact that they were in the region at the time necessitated their being invited, an act in accord with the hospitality of the time.  If true, this may account for the wine running out.

Notice that only Jesus, Mary and the disciples are said to be at the wedding as the episode opens, but when it closes Jesus’ brothers will also be mentioned.  This may be important, and I’ll attempt explaining it below. 

Marriage.  May be understood here as a symbol.  Israel had become like a bride to God, only to be corrupted by the ways of Canaan (Jer 2:2-7), but God had promised new nuptials: “The messianic symbolism of the miracle becomes evident when the reader recalls that messianic days are described in the Old Testament as days of God’s new nuptials with Israel (Hos 2:16-25; Isa 54:4-8; 62:4-5; Matt 22:1-14; Jn 3:39; Rev 19:7-9)” (Peter F. Ellis, THE GENIUS OF JOHN).

Jn 2:3  When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

When the wine failed.  Actually, the Greek (ὑστερέω=hustereo)̄ describes the wine as “lacking”, which need not necessarily imply its sudden absence but, rather, it’s imperfection or lack of quality.  Note that the latter reference to the wine (vs 10) doesn’t speak of absence either, but of better wine coming after inferior.

An abundance of wine symbolizes God’s blessings, redemption, and the messianic age.  A lack of wine would symbolize the lack of these things (Deut 28:30, 31, 38, 39; Hos 2:10-11; Joel 1:5; Amos 5:11) .  The abundance of good wine heralds the dawn of the messianic age and its gifts and blessings (Joel 2:19, 24; 4:18; Amos 9:13-15; Jer 31:12-13).  I do not think that the wine ran out, rather I think our Lord replaced the inferior wine of the Old Covenant with the better wine of the New Covenant.  “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).

Jn 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Several times in this Gospel Jesus responds to people with apparent harshness, but this is done to elicit faith (e.g., see the healing of the official’s son in 4:46-54).  Our Lady, like many OT figures, just will not take no for an answer (see next verse).  What we have here is not arrogance, but rather a humble, confident faith (see Gen 18:16-32; Ex 33:12-34:9; 2 Kings 4:14-28).  I see the purpose of our Blessed Lord’s question adequately explained by the very next verse:

Jn 2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Here in a nutshell is what Mary has to do with Jesus.  Note the words of our Lady echo those spoken by the people on Sinai, as mentioned earlier.  The words, like the theme of marriage and wine are covenant motifs.

Jn 2:6-8. Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it.

Mary’s command, along with what is narrated here forms what scholars call a command and compliance narrative.  Note that our Blessed Lord’s actions (think grace here) are required for the fulfillment of our Lady’s command. 

They filled them up to the brim.  Literally “up to the above”, i.e., overflowing.  Their is an emphasis on the amount of wine, as later their will be an emphasis on its quality.  The new surpasses the old in every way.

Stone jars for the rites of purification.  The rites of purification is to be replaced by the shedding of Jesus blood, made available sacramentally at the Eucharist: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27-28).

Jn 2:9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 2:10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Water now become wine.  Literally “made” or “born into” wine.  As noted in a previous post this provides a parallel with the discourse to Nicodemus.  On the basis of the structure of John’s Gospel as proposed by Peter F. Ellis I believe that the Cana sign is meant to be seen in relation to the teaching of the Nicodemus discourse.  Jesus, who has the power to make/birth water into wine has the power to remake/rebirth us from above. 

The servants who had drawn the water knew.  They know because they fulfilled the command “Do whatever he tells you” (vs 5).  “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:21-23).

Jn 2:11  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

The relationship between sign, glory, and belief in 2:11 are important, because the three are frequently associated in John’s Gospel.  It is no accident, therefore, that the climax of the story combines the three concepts.  The sign-miracle testifies to the union of Jesus and the Father, and therefore to Jesus’ glory, which will be revealed fully only in the ‘hour’ of his passion, death, and resurrection (cf. Jn 12:23; 13:1; 17:24).  Jesus glory is his total union with the Father.  The miracle manifests this union inasmuch as it testifies to Jesus’ oneness with the Father in the working of the sign.  The belief of the disciples is related to their ability to see, inchoatively at least, that such a miracle involves the union of Jesus with the Father.  It testifies, therefore, to the truth of Jesus’ claims.  The reference to the disciples recalls 2:2 and links the episode with 1:35-51 and especially with 1:51-the programmatic text for the remainder of the Gospel (Peter F. Ellis, THE GENIUS OF JOHN, pg. 43).

John 1:51 concerns Jesus’ promise to Nathaniel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”  Our Lord is alluding to Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:11-13.  Because of his revelatory dream Jacob called the place “the house of God” and “the gate of heaven.”  Our Lord is now the locus of revelation.

Jn 2:12  After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days.

As noted previously, the brothers were not mentioned as having been at the wedding, just our Lord with his mother and disciples.  Some very good manuscripts read here: “After this he went down to Capernuam, with his mother and his brothers; and they stayed there for a few days.” The perceptive reader will have noticed that in these manuscripts the disciples are not mentioned in vs 12.  I believe this is the correct reading, but it introduces a question: If the disciples were mentioned in vs 2 but not in vs 12; and if the brothers are mentioned in vs 12 but not vs 2; then where did the disciple go, and where did the brothers come from?

I would suggest that the disciples mentioned in vs 2 have become the brothers of vs 12 as a result of their belief.  This fits well with the only other episode where Mary appears in the Gospel, at the crucifixion, the hour of Jesus glory, when she becomes the mother of the Beloved Disciple who witnessed the hour of Jesus.  “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’  Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home…But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.  He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe” (Jn 19:26-27, 34-35).


5 Responses to “More Notes On John 2:1-12, The Wedding At Cana”

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