Dave and Andreana led the Seeds City mob in a conversation on the Wedding at Cana story from John 2 last week. They are getting married in February and thought it would be good to get their community together to discuss thoughts about what this story may mean for them as they are intending to use it as the text for their wedding ceremony. Great thing to do to make a wedding ceremony meaningful and as a process I always find popular bible study very interesting.
My favourite part occurred when we were trying to make a contextual point by connecting the events at Cana and John’s next story, the Cleansing of the Temple as an implicit critique of empty or corrupt religion. Jase suggested that, based on his experience with his drinking mates, Jesus’ extreme reaction in the temple might have simply been because he had had too much wine at Cana! Lots of laughter and nodding!
Andreana’s rough notes on the thread of the conversation are below…
I also like Nadia Bolz Webber’s thoughts @ Sarcastic Lutheran ( …powerful response to Haiti earthquake disaster… It was great to meet her at Greenbelt in ’09),
Dave Fagg’s thoughts here.
The water-into-wine story of John 2:1-11 shows Jesus offering a life where we can bless each other with extravagance, an abundant party – as opposed to the bleak condemnation and oppression of the religious and societal status quo. Jesus produces a ridiculous amount of the finest wine – around 600 litres. Not only that, it’s counter to the way everyone else does it – it’s towards the end of the party, when everybody is already sloshed and wouldn’t know the difference. (Compare that to John 5:9-10, when Jesus heals a man who has been paralysed for 38 years and the Jews/Judeans say, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your matt.” What dreary sods!)
The storyteller sets Jesus’ actions up in contrast to the rituals, power structures and hypocrisies of the religious and societal status quo. Significantly, the water transformed is from the stone jars used for ceremonial washing. It is almost sacrilegious that Jesus transforms their contents – signifying religious purity and perhaps exclusiveness – into something that catalyses partying and merriment.
It is also significant that the next story is the clearing of the temple (a story that sits towards the apex in the other gospels). Jesus is offering a critique of religion – the kind of religion that is empty (like the stone jars before he orders them filled) and that promotes greed and exploitation (as symbolised in the temple action). The water-into-wine transformation indicates what Jesus is offering instead.
It is no coincidence that the story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-11) happens at a wedding. Marriage is a common metaphor in the Hebrew scriptures, often symbolising God’s relationship with Israel. In this story Jesus radically redefines what a relationship with God is like: it is one of life, extravagance and abundance. The wedding also happens on the ‘third day’, which could tie into the idea that Jesus rose to life on the third day.
Perhaps this wedding is a small taste of what it is like to live forever with God. Jesus also offers a different idea of the temple – it is not a building that takes 46 years to build and a day to destroy, but is found in bodies that should be nourished and make to enjoy themselves with great extravagance and abundance.
In addition, Jesus offers an alternative to the prevailing culture. This is a party where the host – probably the father – failed in his obligations to ensure the wine will last. Perhaps the family is poor; perhaps the father doesn’t care much about this wedding; perhaps he was negligent in the proceeding years by not putting away enough wine. Either way, the wine running out will cut the party short and bring shame to the family. Jesus steps in with his alternative when the father, restrained by resources, bitterness or who knows what else, fails. He finds a way that extravagantly blesses and honours the family and the couple.
Another popular myth around the time that the Gospel of John was written was about Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who was said to turn water into wine. The water-into-wine narrative of Jesus addresses this prevailing Greek/Gentile culture, showing Jesus reversing the custom by serving the best wine at the end. Rather than gutsing themselves on poor-grade alcohol at the end of the party – the way of Dionysus and of the world– the guests were instead invited to enjoy the very best. Jesus is possibly also offering this alternative way to those on the edges of the religious and social order – Cana is likely to be more of a Gentile area. It is similar to how Jesus offers the living water to the Samaritan woman at chapter 4. In order to enjoy the very best party, then, we need Jesus in it. We need to follow the ways of Jesus rather than the prevailing institutions (religious, family, cultural).
Some other strands of thought from our discussion:
Water, in this Gospel, is also a metaphor for God’s spirit (e.g. living water for the Samaritan woman). Perhaps another layer of meaning here is that drinking Jesus’ living water is like drinking the finest wine. It is interesting the Jesus needs to be prompted into his ministry by his mother! There is also an idea that the best comes in time – perhaps a good lesson to remember as we enter into marriage. Jesus places value on celebration, and particularly the celebration of marriage, and so we should remember this in years to come.