Cana: what He tells you

wedding-cana1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

The very sparse opening of this narrative calls a host of questions to mind. Who is getting married? Why is it that Mary, Jesus, and the disciples are all there? How is it that the wine runs short? All questions of importance to the modern mind, but John is interested in the sign (semieon) of the story: water miraculously transformed into wine.

The problem is simply stated: “They have no more wine.” This unfortunate turn of events brings to the fore several problems. The obvious and stated problem in our text is that the wine gives out. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John) suggest the great dishonor this creates:

The fact that the family hosting the wedding has run out of wine threatens a serious loss of honor. Friends, especially those from the inner group of wedding celebrants, usually sent gifts such as wine ahead of time to be available for the wedding celebration. Lack of wine thus implies lack of friends. [66]

and later:

By providing wine for the wedding celebration, Jesus rescues the honor of the bridegroom. Traditional Western theological comment that Jesus here usurps the role of host (thus turning this into a sacramental story) misses a key point in the story. By providing wine for this threatened family, Jesus honors the bridegroom. [69]

In the face of all this, Mary approaches Jesus with the information of the situation

Perhaps less obvious is the problem that Jesus’ hour has not yet come.

Mary and Jesus. 4 (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus’ mother asks nothing explicit of him in v. 3, but his response in v. 4 makes clear that her words carried an implied request. Jesus’ mother assumed her son would somehow attend to the problem. Why Mary would make such a request is the stuff of speculation. The suggestions range from her desire to save the groom embarrassment, forestalling a legal liability (see notes on v.3), her awareness of Jesus’ larger role, or any host of reasons. It seems safe to say, Mary’s motivation is not a concern of John the gospel writer. His concern is Jesus, his salvific role, and the meaning of the miraculous sign that occurred.

To our modern ear, Jesus’ response seems a bit “cold.” The literal translation seems less so: “Woman, what concern that to you and to me?” Jesus will often use the address “Woman” in speaking to women (e.g., Mt 15:28, Luke 22:57, John 4:21), although addressing one’s mother in the same way is unusual. As many have noted, it does create a distance between Jesus and his mother, downplaying the family relationship. The same separation and disengagement is present in the literal “what concern that to you and to me?” Gail O’Day [537] points out:

The reference to Jesus’ hour in v. 4b explains why Jesus adopts a posture of disengagement toward his mother. While “hour” (ὥρα hōra) is used in the Fourth Gospel to indicate the passing of time (e.g., 1:39), it also is used metaphorically to refer to the time of eschatological fulfillment (e.g., 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28) and, most characteristically, to refer to the hour of Jesus’ glorification—i.e., his death, resurrection, and ascension (see 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). Jesus’ reference to his hour thus establishes a link between what Jesus does during his ministry and his glorification. Mary’s concerns (v. 3) must be placed in the larger context of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Verse 4 thus points the reader beyond this particular story to a broader theological context by asserting Jesus’ freedom from all human control. Not even his mother has a privileged claim on him. Jesus’ actions will be governed by the hour set by God, not by anyone else’s time or will. Verse 4 also points beyond the immediate context by alluding to Jesus’ passion. Any act of self-revelation by Jesus during his ministry is of a piece with Jesus’ self-revelation at his “hour.”

All that being said, Mary is still his mother. Apparently she did not take Jesus’ words as harsh and perhaps understands that their relationship is changing because of a larger purpose. But she also understands that Jesus was not aware of the problem of the wine. She simply turns to the servers and tells them “Do whatever he tells you.” These are the last words Mary speaks in this Gospel. They are excellent advice for anyone who would call themselves disciples.

Notes

John 2:1 on the third day: It may significant for St John that the wedding feast account occurs on the 3rd of 7 days. In Nb 19 these are the days on which the ritually unpure were sprinkled with water so that they were (a) rejoined to the people of Israel and (b) could reenter the Temple. Without this rite of purification they were cut off from chosen people of God. This view is supported when in John 2:6 we are told that the six stone jars were for the Jewish rites of purification. But what purification is needed here? Perhaps John is connecting this event to the baptism of John. That baptism was a call of repentance to Israel as a means of purifying themselves for the arrival of the Consolation of Israel; for a new covenantal relationship with God.

wedding: gamos – In the first century, a typical wedding feast lasted at least seven days. This wedding may have been its third day — so there are a number of days left for the celebrating. The image of a wedding [banquet] is used in synoptic parables. Cana: The place name Cana is mentioned in the NT only in John John 2:1, 11; 4:46 as the place where Jesus miraculously changed water into wine (4:46ff.) and healed the son of a royal official (according to v.47 Cana was in the mountains above Capernaum) and in 21:2 as the home of Nathanael.

the mother of Jesus was there: Some commentaries speculate on the phrase “was there.” Most commentaries seem to look ahead to v.2 and the “also invited” as indicating, Mary, who was not present in the narrative to this point is simply now located in the story and was an invited guests. Others, wonder about the distinction and speculate that Mary was “there” in the capacity of service rather than a guest – and hence become aware of the problem.

John 2:3 wine: In the OT, an abundance of good wine is an eschatological symbol, a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s new age. There is no more wine: In the ANE there is strong element of reciprocity surrounding weddings – even to the degree that legal action can be brought to bear against guests who fail to bring suitable gifts and hosts who fail to provide appropriate celebrations. Mishnah B.Bat 9 addresses some of this.

John 2:4 “Woman, how does your concern affect me?: literally, “What is this to me and to you?” This typically a Hebrew expression of either hostility (Judges 11:12; 2 Chron 35:21; 1 Kings 17:18) or denial of common interest (Hosea 14:9; 2 Kings 3:13). In Mark 1:24; 5:7 it is used by demons to speaking to Jesus. This verse may seek to show that Jesus did not work miracles to help his family and friends, as in the apocryphal gospels.

John 2:6 twenty to thirty gallons: literally, “two or three measures”; the Attic liquid measure contained 39.39 liters. The vast quantity recalls prophecies of abundance in the last days; cf Amos 9:13-14; Hosea 14:7; Jeremiah 31:12.

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