1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4[And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. 9And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
The Sign at Cana
The miracle that Jesus performs at Cana is the beginning of his “signs.” In the Gospel of John, a sign not only refers to a miracle or prodigious act that points to Jesus’ power but also allows us to see what is implied in Jesus’ coming into the world.
In any culture, a wedding celebration is an occasion for merriment, family togetherness, and bonding of relationships. In the Philippines, politicians practice “politics as addition” by standing as ninong or ninang at weddings. In the Bible, a wedding or marriage symbolizes the joining of life and destiny of God and his people. The prophets constantly use it to exemplify the love of God for his people and of the people for their God. This love is the initiative of God to which the people respond freely. It is not always reciprocated, and so the marriage undergoes serious tension, even rupture. But there is never divorce, for God is faithful; he leads his errant spouse to him, and pardons all her offenses. The prophet Isaiah tells us that because of Israel’s infidelity—her worship of idols and her rejection of God’s commandments—the land had been rendered desolate by her enemies (Is 62:4—First Reading). But God cannot bear to abandon his people. God will rescue them, and give them a new life and a new destiny. And so, henceforth, they shall be called “My Delight” and “Espoused.”
From this perspective, let us take another look at the Gospel. While the bride and the bridegroom take center stage at their wedding, here they serve as mere backdrop to the person of Jesus. He is the Bridegroom, as John the Baptist will testify shortly (cf Jn 3:28-29).
The groom and the bride may be relatives of Jesus: Mary is there as a guest. They may be pleased by the presence of their “cousin” Jesus whose fame as a prophet is spreading. But John concentrates on presenting the identity of Jesus through his “sign-action.” He is the Messiah whose presence among God’s people brings joy and gladness, as when people gather at a wedding feast.
This joy is symbolized by the abundance of wine, which, in the Bible, stands for God’s most precious gifts. It “gladdens men’s hearts” (Ps 104:15). It is a blessing from heaven (Gn 27:28). Isaiah compares the superabundant joy of the messianic times to a banquet of rich food and “choice wines” which the Lord will prepare on his holy mountain (25:6).
Mary’s comment, “They have no wine,” may suggest the barrenness of Israel. The old covenant is incapable of giving fullness of joy. Even the six stone water jars allude to this incapacity (“six” signifies incompleteness). But the presence of Jesus the Messiah fills up what is lacking in the old dispensation. Furthermore, the headwaiter’s comment that the “good wine” was kept until the later part of the banquet suggests that God has reserved the best for the fullness of time, when he sends his Son (cf Heb 1:1-2).
When pilgrims to the Holy Land visit the town of Cana in Galilee, they go through a simple yet beautiful ceremony of renewal of marriage vows inside the church. The water jars prominently placed below the altar are a vivid reminder of the presence of the Bridegroom. Arab store owners proudly boast that their “Cana wines” are the best in the world. A wine connoisseur may smile at this claim, but pilgrims usually take a bottle in remembrance of that “good wine” that Jesus offered once at a wedding banquet.