A Smirk in Cana

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You know the story: the first and only mention of Jesus celebrating with friends and family at a wedding. But, with time left in the festivities, “The wine gave out” (John 2:3). 

The small village of Cana consisted of a few dozen houses on a terraced hillside. Located off the footpath connecting Nazareth and Capernaum, Cana was an agricultural settlement in Galilee. Since Nazareth (population about 500) was only five miles away, it is safe to assume people from both places knew one another. Jesus had grown up in Nazareth Matthew 2:23), and his disciple Nathanael (also at the wedding) hailed from the hamlet of Cana (John 21:2).

With so few inhabitants, weddings were rare in this poor, rural community. Friends and family had been prepping for the event for weeks. Even Nazareth-based Mary, the mother of Jesus, had some preparation responsibilities. We sense her empathy for the family when she tells her Son, “They have no wine” (John 2:3).

But rather than filling the empty wine casks with water, Jesus instructed six stone waterpots to be refilled. Water from these vessels was not set apart for drinking but for ceremonial cleansing. Each morning and before every meal, guests plunged a pitcher into the vessel and poured water out in a prescribed method to carefully wash each hand. No one was exempt from this purification. 

Night after night, in-town celebrants returned home to rest. Each morning, they returned, stopping at the waterpots to cleanse before rejoining the party. As the days passed, water in the ceremonial pots diminished through use, spills, and evaporation. As the containers slowly emptied, the water stagnated. Yet, Jesus used this water as the starter for His first miracle. 

The noteworthy extravagance of this wonder has scandalized conservative commentators for hundreds of years. With each vessel holding between 27 and 39 liters, Jesus’ gift produced 1000 to 1600 glasses of wine. His super-abundance proved far above the need. Although this lavish gift may have liberally solved the lack of wine, I find it humourous that it really messed up the tradition of ceremonial purification. It must have caused a scramble to find new waterpots for daily use, as these six may have been the only ones in town.

About 1500 years earlier, Moses’ miracle turned water into blood. Here, in this new era, Jesus turned water into wine. Matthew Henry states, “The curse of the law turns water into blood…the blessing of the gospel turns water into wine.” Although these stone containers had never held anything but water, they were instantly stained purple. They would never be the same and could no longer be used for mere ritual.

Although we are only earthen vessels, Jesus’ Presence changes our chemistry. We are sprinkled wine-red with His blood (and chosen to obey! 1 Peter 1:2). Despite the flaws in our pottery, a Power beyond measure is working within us (2 Corinthians 4:7). The miracle that He creates within our earthen vessels is not meant for a momentary experience, but a life transformation. It is never so we can return to rote religion. He fills us with His Presence and then celebrates with us daily.

Pray with me:

Holy Father, thank You that Your standard of measure is lavish and outrageous. You love a cheerful giver because that is who You are (2 Corinthians 9:7). You specialize in going above our highest prayers, deepest desires, grandest thoughts, and wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20 Amplified). Open our eyes to see all that You are. 

Deep within the fertile soil of Galilee, the remnants of six waterpots may be forgotten yet forever marked by Your Word. In choosing these vessels, You infused joy and defused ritual. Since I have run out of wine, I ask You to overflow me with Life, not religion. Teach me how to abide in You, rather than depend upon a checklist of liturgy. Thank You for marking me indelibly as Your own. I pray this, invoking the authority of Your extravagant Son, Amen.

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