20 January 2013

John 2:1-11

"Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine … But you have kept the good wine until now." (v. 10)


In John's Gospel, it is this famous story of the marriage feast at Cana that marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. In the other Gospels, Jesus' Baptism is followed by a time of testing in the wilderness (eg Matthew 4:1-11) after which Jesus returns to call disciples by the lakeside and begin his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God (eg Matthew 4:17-22). But here in chapter 2 of John's Gospel, Jesus' ministry begins at a family celebration.

The story tells how the wine runs out at the wedding (verse 3) and how Jesus is at first reluctant to respond when his mother turns to his for help (verse 4). But Mary persists and then, when Jesus tells the servants to fill the stone jars with water (verse 7), miraculously it turns into the finest wine, so that the bridegroom is commended for saving the best till last (verse 10).

It also introduces a number of themes to be developed later in the Gospel. It shows first how Jesus' ministry comes to fulfil the as yet incomplete promise of Judaism. This is evident in the symbolism of six stone jars (verse 6), one less than the perfect number seven, and the best wine being saved till last. (Indeed there are interesting parallels with discussion of new wine and old wineskins in the other Gospels (eg Mark 2:21-22).)

Secondly, it shows how Jesus' family are in some sense involved in his ministry from the start, as it is Mary's request that first triggers Jesus' response. Again at the end of his life it will be Jesus' final words to Mary and 'the beloved disciple' that mark the beginning of the new community which will bear his name after the Resurrection (John 19:21-22).

Finally, as the evangelist records, this is the "first of his signs" in which Jesus' glory is revealed. What is distinctive about John's account is the way in which Jesus' ministry is revealed in a series of 'signs' which trigger discussion and reflection on who Jesus is; and which as the evangelist notes, lead his disciples to 'believe' in him (verse 11).

To Ponder

  • How important are family celebrations in your life - and the life of the Church?
  • Do we make the most of what are sometimes dismissed as 'rites of passage' (ie baptism, marriage, funerals) in people's journey of faith? What else might be done?
  • Jesus is here recorded turning 'water into wine'; is there a place for Methodism to consider relaxing its traditional teaching on alcohol? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.