Sign Post

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”  “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”  But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing.  Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.”  So the servants followed his instructions.  When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.  “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said.  “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine.  But you have kept the best until now!”  This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

John 2.1-12

Besides the normal reading of this passage, I want to focus on a couple of often missed things.* Notice again verse 11, 'This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.' This was a sign. What do signs do? They tell us information or point us to something else. When we go on a trip, we see road signs alerting us of the distance to our destination. How many times do we, upon seeing the first of these signs, pull over and take out our luggage? Never. We understand that the sign is not the destination. It is pointing away from itself to something else. So, let's move past the 'face value' of this passage and see if we can see something deeper here.

First of all, there is the 'wedding'. In the Old Testament, Israel and her land, are often referred to as God's bride -- that God has married Israel and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 62, God said,
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.

Isaiah 62.1-4 (NRSV)

Again, we see that God is not just concerned about people, but all of his creation. What is significant about this passage is that it is a promise to Israel that YHWH would come and put everything to rights. And when he does that, it will be like God marrying Israel and her land. He will come and be their king and rule the whole creation from her.

Another 'sign' in the Johannine passage is that of the cisterns. These stone jars were used for purification rights among the Jewish people in the first century. When people would come into a house, they would use this water to wash their feet and hands. Now, the size of these jars tells us something else. This party had a lot of guests and was planned to last quite a long time. These jars contained 120 - 180 gallons (454.25 - 681.37 liters) of water! That is a lot of water! Then, Jesus takes that water and changes it into wine. Not grape juice. Sorry 'bout that. Jesus made wine. And not just any old wine. No. According to the passage, the wine was 'the best'. And the best is last!

A couple of things here. First, of course, is the changing of the water into wine. Notice that Jesus didn't destroy the jars or the water. No. He transformed them. This points, as I have stated again and again in this blog, to the fact that this creation is God's 'very good' creation and he will not destroy it. He will transform it into it's glorious future hope. That is what the prophets of old taught. That is what the apostles taught. And that is what this sign points to.

Furthermore, this points to something being done 'in the real world'. Not some 'pie in the sky' or just a 'spiritual' world. No. This points to the fact that God is concerned about the natural world, the created cosmos, and his goal, since at least Abraham, has been to redeem it. To bring it to completion. Not to destroy it and start over but to redeem it. To 'make all things new' -- not to make all new things! But to transform the old into the new creation.

Lastly, this new wine was the 'best'. This points out that the world, as it is now, is not the end. It has glimpses of what it can and should be, but it's not yet arrived. This passage points to a world of justice and beauty and relationships and worship that is not marred by sin and death. Where people love one another and respect one another. Where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Where the bear and the ox eat vegetation. That is what this sign points to.

To sum up. This passage speaks about New Creation. It points to the fact that God is concerned about the 'real world'. That one day, God will transform the cosmos into a New Creation. Yes, the world is a beautiful place. But, as we know too well, it is also a world in great pain, like a woman in travail, waiting for the new day to come. God has promised that this day will come. That he will come and make 'all things new'. And here is the great part -- this passage points to the fact that it has already begun! Within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the time of waiting is over! The New Creation Project has begun. Each day, we are getting closer and closer to the Great Consummation. Every day when the people of God pray, 'You kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven' we are one moment closer. Each moment when the people of God do acts of self-giving love, we are bringing the world one step closer to the time when God will do a fresh act of his grace and the New Creation will be consummated and God will be 'all in all'.

May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.


*BTW, this is mostly taken from Fr Dwight's sermon on Sunday morning. The bit about creating the new out of the old was my inclusion.


J.W.M. said…
Without being pedantic, I just want to quibble with one thing you said, Jack. You said that "God has married Israel and the earth". Might I suggest that this is redundant? What I mean is that human beings are not something separate from the creation. We are part of it - the highest part, in fact. Jesus called us the "salt of the earth" - the flavor!

So anyway, you needn't say that God married both Israel AND the earth, because in doing the former he did the latter. cheers!
Odysseus said…
While I most certainly agree with your statement, I emphasise it because 'the earth' is all but forgotten in most Christian circles here in the States. With everyone caught up in the supposed 'rapture', the earth is left to be destroyed by us not doing anything. So, I am being redundant to emphasize the problem, IMO.

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