The story of Jesus turning water into wine is one of my favorites. It has always seemed to me to be a bit of a cheeky story. A bit irreverent—and brash. You know, something like drawing mustache on Mrs. Grundy’s picture or putting soap suds in a water fountain. It wasn’t what I would expected for a first public miracle by the Messiah. I think I might have expected something along the lines of levitating in the temple with all of the scribes being struck speechless while Jesus spoke. But it wasn’t like that.
Here we have Jesus attending a wedding for friends in Cana when the celebration wine began to run low. This has always been a bit of embarrassment for church members. I mean, even as a boy I wanted to know, “Did Jesus actually drink wine? You know the kind that could make your heart merry?” My mom didn’t. My dad didn’t. The preacher said he didn’t. In fact, whenever I heard this story told in my childhood I heard just as many explanations that said that Jesus did not make that kind of wine—but it was grape juice. And they proceeded to tell me that our Lord would never make anything that could intoxicate us—even more the reason it had to be grape juice. But I don’t think that’s the deal here. I think there was a concern that the wedding was running out of wine. And, I’m not intimidated by the fact that it may well have been real wine—the kind that requires moderation—and not that PG sort of stuff that comes from concentrate.
His mother asked him to do something about it–“Hey, the natives are getting restless—you’ve got to do something” –or something like that. Jesus seemed to be a bit reluctant to perform a miracle but relented when his mother told the servants to do whatever he said. So, he gave them instructions to fill a number of large ceremonial jars to the brim with water—and this is where the naughty little trick takes place. Jesus intentionally fills the ceremonial jars with wine. It wasn’t a barrel or a flask, or a pitcher. It wasn’t the kitchen urn or pots and pans. It definitely wasn’t a Yetti! No, it’s the purification jars—the one’s that as a Jew make you ritually clean. This is almost like you and I visiting a Catholic church and changing out the holy water with alcohol. Seriously! (I’m liking this guy more and more!)
Jesus then told the servants to take the water, which had been turned into wine, to the person who was managing the wedding. The wine’s quality was so impressive that the host exclaimed that he had saved the best until last–this wine was better than the wine that was served at the beginning of the celebration!
Let’s do a little math. Those six purification jars, according to my bible, held between 20 and 30 gallons apiece. Follow me if you will. By today’s standards 5 bottles of wine equals one gallon. Each jar held 30 gallons—and there were six of them. That amounts to 900 bottles of wine—or 75 cases. Further, there are six servings to a bottle—or 5,400 total servings. The wine was of good quality—not poor or average—so the cost by today’s standards would be between 18 – 20,000 dollars! That’s one serious wedding gift! Please don’t tell me everyone was hanging around for a cup of Welches!
But seriously now—what’s really the point here? Why is this story in the bible as Jesus first public miracle? What do the writers want us to know? Is it that Jesus was a good guy that wanted to help out his mother and friends at the wedding? Was it just to prove that he could work miracles so that people might believe he was the Son of God? Was it to show that Jesus knew how to have a good time just like anybody else? I don’t think so. I think this story is included in text for more important reasons—and whether the miracle actually happened or not—the story is truer than true and realer than real.
This story is about the work that Jesus wants to do in you. The work that he’s planned for each of us. He starts by meeting us right where we are–weddings, funerals, workplace, homes, the courthouse, the military—he’s always there. You are the jar of clay—you are really hungry and thirsty. You can hold a lot–and Jesus knows all those religious purification-teachings you’ve had. You have been ceremonially washed so many times. You’ve read, studied, prayed, been baptized, come to church communed and done good deeds. You’ve given your money and helped as you could. But as important as all that is, those things that we do—don’t purify us. They are never enough—even though you’ve done it so many times you don’t know what else to do.
And then, just when you’ve given up, Jesus comes to you—just when you need him. “Come follow me,” he says. “The one who drinks this water will never thirst again—not the water of your own doing—not the I’ll get it right if I just keep on trying to do it my way—not the “this is how I was taught to do it at church” –but only the water of life keeps us from thirsting again. And this time we surrender and follow him—this time doing what He tells us to do.
Not everyone understands why we do what we do. Like Jesus, we may not be considered as religious at all by many—but one thing we know, He fills us to the brim with living water flowing from an everlasting spring. We’ve heard about it—but we never believed it could happen to us—ordinary men and women, suddenly Sons and Daughters of God. Suddenly the kingdom within us makes perfect sense and we know right away that we have been born again—this time of the everlasting water and spirit. And we are surprised as anyone at the changes that take place. The growth—the understanding of things that once were hidden to us. And perhaps those who know us—those who really know us the best will see the water that has been turned to wine. They won’t know exactly what has happened to us—But they will know that the very best was saved until last!