In his book, God and Stephen Hawking, Dr. John Lennox notes a current objection to miracles that says: ‘Now we know the laws of nature, miracles are impossible’. To which Dr. Lennox responds: ‘From a theistic perspective, the laws of nature predict what is bound to happen if God does not intervene… To argue that the laws of nature make it impossible for us to believe in the existence of God and the likelihood of his intervention in the universe is plainly false’.
God’s people understand that ‘the laws of nature’ are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ do not prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’.
A wedding in a small, impoverished village. In John chapter 2 we read of a wedding that Jesus and his close followers attended in Cana in Galilee (2:1-11). A critical situation had arisen: the wine had run out. And Mary, Jesus’ mother, who seems to have been involved with the preparations for the wedding, had turned to him and asked him to do something.
Jesus’ response might seem harsh to us: “Woman, “What concern is that to you and to me?…” he said.
Woman was Jesus’ usual form of address, as we find when he spoke to the woman at the well (John 4:21) and Mary Magdalene in the garden after his resurrection (John 20:15). It was also the address he used when he spoke to his mother from the cross, putting her in the care of John, the beloved disciple (John 19:26). On no occasion did this imply harshness or indifference.
Furthermore, his response: “What concern is that to you and to me?…” is a Hebrew idiom. While literally it means, ‘What to me and thee’, we need to consider the context. So, on the lips of the evil-possessed in Mark 1, it means, ‘What have we in common with you?’ (1:24). Here, as one commentator observes, the probable meaning is, ‘Your concern and mine are not the same’.
Jesus was saying to Mary that he was no longer just her son but was now entering his time in public ministry as the Son of God incarnate, the Messiah. His work would now involve taking up the primary purpose of his coming. His response to Mary’s “they have no wine” would be much deeper and more significant than generously alleviating the pressing need at a wedding.
Water jars. In verse 6, John tells us: Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification,… As John’s Gospel was written in the first instance for a Jewish readership, it is fair to say that John, who uses symbolism throughout his writing, wants us to understand the purpose of the water: it was for outward and ceremonial cleansing of people who were physically and spiritually unclean.
The wine. Jesus directed the servants to draw from the water jars and take the beverage to the steward, the wedding master of ceremonies, for tasting. Recognizing the fine quality of the wine he spoke with the bridegroom, complimenting him for leaving the best wine, contrary to custom, until the last.
We are left in no doubt about the quality and superabundance of Jesus’ action. He had provided for a bridegroom in his dilemma – saving him from potential legal action, for a bridegroom was responsible for the cost of the wedding. Jesus also provided a generous wedding gift: the new couple could have sold the balance of the wine to start their new home.
Some critics have responded to Jesus’ action in turning some 120 – 130 gallons of water into wine as a purposeless ‘luxury’ miracle. It’s said this miracle is unlike every other supernatural act of Jesus. On every other occasion he showed God’s concern for those in physical need.
What then do we glean from this remarkable event?
In verse 11 we read: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in (on) him. None of Jesus’ actions were simply designed to assuage human suffering. Yes, they do show God’s compassion, but they also pointed to Jesus’ uniqueness as God’s Messiah. In John’s Gospel they are spoken of as signs revealing the glory of Jesus.
Furthermore, because this sign is not followed up with John’s usual spiritual discourse, we need to look more carefully at the detail of the narrative. As we observed, in verse 6 John had indicated that the water in the six stone jars was used for the Jewish rites of purification.
Given the direction of John’s narrative to the hour when Jesus said he would be glorified – in his crucifixion, we can say that the water, now turned into wine, symbolized the day when Jesus would generously provide the perfect, once and for all time spiritual cleansing for the sins of an unclean humanity – through his shed blood on the cross.
Significantly, John the Gospel writer tells us that the disciples believed in (or, on) him. They did not simply believe that he was the Messiah, they put their trust in him.
Jesus’ turning the water into wine was the first occasion John records when Jesus chose to intervene and act outside ‘the laws of nature’. It was the first of the signs authenticating Jesus as the Word of God, the Son of God incarnate.
Prayer: Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.