Dear Friends in Christ,
In a village in Galilee we encounter John’s ‘sign theology’. As he puts it so simply and beautifully: ‘This, the first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee’. The question as always with these signs is: ‘What does this sign mean?’ Like all the signs the meaning is profound and many-faceted. St. Thomas More said that the Scriptures are such that a mouse could put his tiny foot in them and an elephant wade in their deep waters! What are you – a mouse of an elephant? Don’t answer that!
The changing of water into wine is many people’s favourite miracle. A wedding in first-century Palestine was a joyful occasion with plenty of food and wine, and lasted a whole week. Quite some party, that is for sure! Running out of wine was clearly socially embarrassing for the couple but a sign perhaps of how much people were enjoying themselves. The water that was changed into wine was not ordinary water – it was water that had been blessed for the ceremonial washing. This special water was not changed into vin ordinaire, as the French say, but top-notch wine. Scholars inform us that as a result of this miracle there were now six jars each holding up to 25 gallons of quality wine! What a miracle!! Indeed, it dumbfounded the guests.
Believer or unbeliever, we all understand the message a superabundance of wine gives – in conveys joy and celebration. In Israel an abundance of wine was a prophetic turn of speech for the ushering in of the new Messianic Age. There is also a passage in the non-canonical 2 Baruch 29, which echoes this sentiment: ‘on each vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall bear a thousand clusters, and each grape, produce a cor [120 gallons of wine]…because these are they who have come to the consummation of time.’
For John the miracle was a sign of the Messianic Age, the passing from the old to the new. The wedding feast was a sign of the heavenly banquet to which we are all invited by virtue of our baptism. The bridegroom as this wedding is Jesus. The joy of the heavenly banquet would come after the ‘hour’ of Jesus’ suffering: the cross, his death, his glory.