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A wedding in Cana
Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 2: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 24, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: John 2:1-12
The scriptures for the next two lessons are from the Gospel of John. John is very different from the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. To run the risk of over-simplifying, John is more theological. All the gospels interpret who Jesus is and His mission on earth, but John does this work in very unique ways: in language, in chronology, and in the manner of presentation of the events of Jesus’ life on earth. Moreover, there are layers of meaning in each episode.
The event this week is the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. Jesus, Mary his mother, and his disciples have been invited. Like a wedding reception today, the giving of a party after the wedding was an important occasion.
Across our 42 years of ministry, Sam officiated at many weddings. Most had receptions following; some were simple occasions in the church social hall, but many were elaborate affairs at country clubs or other exclusive venues. At all of them, food and drink were mandatory. Imagine running out of these elements of hospitality! How embarrassing!
Such was the situation at Cana, a town not far from Nazareth. Mary brings the matter to Jesus’ attention. His initial response seems insensitive and even rude to Mary. He addresses her as “woman,” not mother, and then adds “what concern is that to you and me?” Guests aren’t responsible for providing the menu for a wedding feast.
Jesus adds another statement: “My hour has not yet come.” Here begins the layering of John. We will learn “the hour” has to do with Jesus’ glorification, and His glorification is the crucifixion and resurrection. His public ministry has just begun, and Jesus is always sensitive to the Father’s will and plan. Note also, the address of Mary as “woman” is the same one He uses from the cross, when He commends her to John for care. (John 19:26)
Obviously, Mary knew her son and instructs the servants “to do whatever he tells you.” Maybe she remembered that moment in Jerusalem when Jesus told her and Joseph, “Don’t you know I must be in my Father’s house.” (Luke 2:49)
Jesus gives the order to take the very large jars used for purification: “fill them with water.” We’re talking about BIG jars! They held 20-30 gallons! More than our car’s gas tank! The next order was simple, “Draw a glass and take it the chief steward for a taste testing.” Is the wine okay to serve? Not only is the wine acceptable, it’s the very best! The steward compares it to what usually happens at a wedding – best first, second best last. Not this time! The best came last. Watch out – another layering!
No one but Mary, the servants, and the disciples knew what had happened! Not the chief steward, not the bride and groom, not the other guests!
Now John gives us the key word by identifying the event as a “sign.” For John, when Jesus does something that seems to be supernatural, a signpost is erected that points the way to Whom Jesus is. In the prologue, John states “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Look for other signs along the journey of Him who is the way, the truth and the life.
The location of this sign is at an ordinary human moment of a wedding, where two lives are joined as one and a new life partnership is created. Jesus always used ordinary moments, places, and people to do the Father’s work. Here is a multiple layering of John. An embarrassing moment at the feast is redeemed by what some will call a miracle, but not John! Perhaps John remembers the prophecy of Isaiah where salvation at the end of time is described as a party for the nations where good food is served in abundance and good wine flows freely. (Isaiah 25:6)
This wedding feast, honoring the bride and groom, should not be tarnished with lack of proper provision. The plentiful supply of wine is typical of Him who said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) One commentator writes: “As a gift of Jesus, the wine is also significant; it is given at the end and it is so precious and copious that it is the eschatological gift of the Messiah.” The wine is a free gift of God in Jesus Christ that comes as grace at the conclusion of life.
Another layer is the image of the marriage of God and humanity. The metaphor of Jesus as the bridegroom coming to His bride, the Church, is affirmed in this event, as well as elsewhere in scripture. Since the Gospel of John was the last of the gospels written, perhaps he had read Paul’s letters where the image is first stated. Whatever the source, the marriage of the couple at Cana become for John an ordinary moment in time pointing to eternity, when the broken relationship between God and humanity is healed in the courageous work of the Bridegroom giving His life for His bride, the Church. These signs of John always point to Jesus, Who He is and what He will do.
A major layer of meaning of this scripture is hospitality. At the wedding, if the wine had run out, the guests would not have received the hospitality expected. In one of Paul’s lists of the gifts of the Spirit, the gift of hospitality becomes a hallmark of Christian life and action. In our United Methodist motto: “Open minds, Open doors, and Open hearts,” we have the secret of reaching out to all kinds of people. Acts of welcome, inclusion, and caring for human needs are at the heart of this gift. We may not turn water into wine, but we can turn rejection into acceptance, ill will into love, meanness into kindness, and exclusiveness into inclusiveness. These signs of hospitality will point to Him, Who has come for all to have the abundant life.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.