Reading Jesus between the Lines

The Marriage at Cana by David Gerard

John 2:1-11 – The wedding feast at Cana – presents us with the only recounting of Jesus’ first public miracle, which leaves the reader to ponder apparent gaps that might otherwise have been filled in by harmonizing with Mathew, Mark and Luke. The first two lines establish the setting; it’s the third day of the week, Mary along with Jesus and the disciples are present. The next five lines set up the conditions for the miracle; the wine runs short, Mary mentions this to Jesus, Jesus responds, Mary prepares the waiters for Jesus’ instructions, Jesus gives instructions regarding the jars used in ceremonial washing. These five lines, though they are few, are plump with sub context and meaning because, within these five lines are two unexplained turning points. The first turning point is when Mary’s voice changes from the passive, “They have no wine” to the active, “Do whatever He tells you.” The second turning point is when Jesus’ actions change from the potential, “my hour has not yet come” to the active, “fill the jars with water.” It would seem that in order for Mary to know what Jesus is about to do she would have to read signs of Jesus’ consent. For us it’s subtext; it’s between the lines. What transpired between Jesus and Mary that gave Mary the confidence to prepare the waiters for instructions from Jesus: what transpired between Mary and Jesus that encouraged Jesus to outwardly perform this miracle? To fill in the gaps we can look at the Old Testament, Jewish tradition and surrounding New Testament chapters… and a little imagination.

“Do whatever He tells you,” these are Mary’s last words recorded in the Bible. Mary doesn’t say anything else; maybe she just looks at Jesus. She knows He’s right that it’s none of their concern if the wine runs out. Still, it matters to Mary. This is important because, in a sense Mary is fulfilling what many Old Testament figures failed to do; she’s interceding for others. Certainly this doesn’t rule out the great bastions of faith like Abraham who interceded for Lot but even a true remnant such as Noah failed to ask pardon for the people God was about to destroy. The problem goes back to Adam who, in full knowledge that his wife Eve had disobeyed God, failed to seek God and ask pardon for her but instead chose to share in disobedience. Shortly after this God punished the couple saying that the man should bring forth the produce of the land by the sweat of his brow and the woman should bring forth her children in pain. Both of these pronouncements are a “bringing forth”; the man with the land and the woman with her children. Both of these pronouncements have something to do with the ministry of Christ which is beginning at Cana.

First, the woman’s pain is not exclusively a physical pain but a deeply spiritual and emotional pain that all mothers experience as their children grow. It is a kind of satisfying yearning for their development into adulthood and perfection. It is this kind of soul wrenching pain, that in its ultimate form, Mary endures while witnessing her son’s passion, and in a more moderate tone, seems to motivate Mary at the wedding at Cana. She is concerned as any good mother would be. She is also, in a way, “bringing forth” her son into public ministry by encouraging Him to inaugurate it with this first public miracle.

Second, the work of the hands of man in bringing forth produce is symbolically present in the wine at the wedding feast at Cana. It is part of our Eucharistic liturgy, stemming from tradition, to thank God both for the wine we have to drink as a gift from Him and for having it as a product of the work of human hands. From there, the priest asks for the intercession of the Holy Spirit to cause bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ for us. God takes the work of man, which the Church ‘brings forth’ as an offering, and completes it by His spirit. God doesn’t reject our work but rather he accepts it and elevates it beyond anything we could possibly have done on our own. The wine, by itself, is insufficient just as the work of man, by itself, is insufficient. Just as the first wine is good wine and the second wine is better wine, so too is the work of man good and the work of God best. It is because of the sacrifice of Christ that these gifts are ‘brought forth’ as wholly perfect gifts to God the Father.

Mary seems to know that Jesus will do something about the shortage of wine. So enveloped in God’s plan is Mary that she may understand the significance of this event deeper than we might ever come to know. Her words precede those of the Father at the transfiguration and yet they have the same meaning. Veiled by clouds at the Transfiguration God said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him,” (Matthew 17:5 Mark 9:6 Luke 9:35 – also compare with the baptism of Jesus [ Mark 1:11 Matthew 3:17 Luke 3:22 ]). Mary is saying much the same thing with her words, “Do whatever He tells you.” But at Cana, instead of a transfiguration we see a transformation, which is something Jesus refused to do when Satan tempted Him in the desert. Stones, Jesus would not turn to bread for His own comfort and nourishment, but water He would turn into wine for the sake of others. Jesus rebuked Satan but heeded Mary because His mother’s plan is in line with His Father’s plan.

The Father’s plan was to reveal Jesus as the Christ so that people might believe in Him and be reconciled and have eternal life. He sent John baptizing to prepare people to receive this good news and John testified that Jesus is “the Lamb of God,” (John 1:29-31 John 3:29-31) . From baptismal waters, waters of cleansing like the ceremonial water in the jars at the wedding at Cana, Jesus brings forth wine, wine of thanksgiving like the wine at the last supper. Turning water into wine manifests the power and glory of Christ, foreshadows a covenant that transforms the old into the new, and fortifies the faith of the disciples.

The jars used for ceremonial washing are an integral part of this miracle. Guests would have used the water already to cleanse themselves before eating. Filling them again would seem strange or anticipate another round of cleansing. By using these jars Jesus is saying that the laws of ritual cleanliness are about to come alive through Him. Cleanliness will no longer be just about physical purity, but more so, it will be about spiritual purity. In the proceeding chapter of John, Jesus explains this rebirth in the spirit to Nicodemus (John 3:1-7). So the context of the miracle at the wedding feast is rebirth in the spirit, and whether Mary knew it or not, her intersession fit with all that God wanted to do.

So how does all this transpire in just a few lines of John? It has to do with the two hearts of Mary and Jesus being so connected. Imagine this. Concerned for the bride and groom Mary mentions to Jesus that, “they have no wine.” Perhaps somewhat distracted from another conversation, Jesus replies, “What is this between you and me?” Then they catch each other’s eyes, she finding hope in Him and He reaching deep into her heart. Mary seems to say, ‘it should not matter to anyone but it does to me. I can do nothing but you can do everything.’ Jesus seems to reply, ‘Now here is a heart after my own heart, one who hopes in God; True faith.’ He cannot turn her down, but seeing that it fits with the Father’s plan, Jesus nods his head. That is all that Mary needs and she sets about the work of instilling confidence in the waiters who will, like altar boys, follow along and serve. How close to the heart of God Mary must be! And she wants us to be close to Him too. That’s why she points the way to Christ, asking us to be like the waiters and to do as He says. In following Jesus this way we open ourselves to miracles and transformation.

John 2:1-11
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
1And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there.
2And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage.
3And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine.
4And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come.
5His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.
6Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece.
7Jesus saith to them: Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
8And Jesus saith to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast. And they carried it.
9And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the water; the chief steward calleth the bridegroom,
10And saith to him: Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now.
11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
Matthew 17:5
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
5And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.
Mark 9:6
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
6And there was a cloud overshadowing them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my most beloved son; hear ye him.
Luke 9:35
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
35And a voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son; hear him.
Mark 1:11
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
11And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
Matthew 3:17
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
17And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Luke 3:22
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
22And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
John 1:29-31
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
29The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.
30This is he, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me.
31And I knew him not, but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
John 3:29-31
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
29He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30He must increase, but I must decrease.
31He that cometh from above, is above all. He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from heaven, is above all.
John 3:1-7
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
1And there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
2This man came to Jesus by night, and said to him: Rabbi, we know that thou art come a teacher from God; for no man can do these signs which thou dost, unless God be with him.
3Jesus answered, and said to him: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4Nicodemus saith to him: How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born again?
5Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.
7Wonder not, that I said to thee, you must be born again.

2 Responses to “Reading Jesus between the Lines”

  1. God Bless You and Your family.

  2. Steve says:

    When in the Holyland Oct 2011 our guide was a cradle Catholic born, raised, and still living in Nazareth. While in Cana he explained to us that the in the culture of the region, the wedding goes on for a week. There are actually people hired to make sure no one runs out of essentials during the span of time. He said it has been this way since biblical times and the general consensus among the locals is it was the third day of a many-day wedding parth.

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