The story of the wedding feast of Cana is only told in John’s Gospel. A particular characteristic of John’s Gospel is his use of symbolism. Many times the stories in John’s Gospel are working on several different levels of meaning.
At a very basic level this is a story of Jesus accepting an invitation (a call) to a local wedding. His mother is also present and seems to be helping the family with hospitality. It is a story about a family, about being a good neighbor, about human celebration. These events are part of our experience as well. But into this story comes an uncomfortable shortage. Through Mary’s mediation Jesus wonderfully comes to the rescue. The story reminds us that faith is a family affair. It appeals to our Catholic view of Mary as intercessor for us. But John appears to have much more in mind.
This story looks back and completesthe story of the first days of Jesus ministry in John’s Gospel. The wedding is the culmination of the first week in Jesus’ public life. John’s Gospel begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word…” There are echoes from the book of Genesis which begins: “In the beginning God created…” Genesis then goes on to tell the story of creation in seven days. John parallels Genesis with his structure of beginning days in Jesus’ ministry.
The story also fulfills, in a beginning way, the call of the disciples. Jesus called his first disciples and now after the wedding feast of Cana we are told: “…his disciples began to believe in him.” The geographic site of Cana is unique to the fourth gospel. “Jesus begins his activity not in the headquarters of the Law, not in the center of the religious world of Israel, but on the obscure margins, hidden, quiet, yet invited.” Becoming Children of God, p.78.
In a third sense this story is a fulfillment story. There were six large water jars empty. John creates suspense almost making the jars appear to be waiting for something to happen. Jews were conscious of numbers and their symbolism. Six is incomplete. “The six jars are juxtaposed with the six days of the gospel’s first week: the older is being replaced by the new.” Becoming, p. 79 The jars are used for religious ceremonies for washing and purification. The jars can hold twenty to thirty gallons. They are filled, filled to the brim. Then the water is changed into wine, but not just ordinary wine, but wine of the highest quality. In the Jewish scriptures the coming of the Messiah was at times described as a time when there would be an abundance of wine. Wine was a symbol of joy. It still is today. We toast special events.
As the Gospel story continues according to John, Jesus will replace the old with the new. But for now the incompleteness of the Jewish people, the incompleteness of the disciples, resonates with our own sense of feeling incomplete, our sense of emptiness, our longing for more. Jesus is a promise of fulfillment, joy, and abundance.
Mary’s words to the servants were: “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary’s greatness lies not only in her being the Mother of Jesus but in her faithful discipleship. In Luke, Jesus responds to the praise of his Mother with the Words, “Blest are they who hear the word of God and obey it.” Are we not in touch here with a clear example of the ways our Mothers’ words stick with us. Mary’s words to the servants are almost exactly the same as those Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel of his mother. These words have become as it were watchwords for the Christian ages. They are the way to true Discipleship. In our relationship with God we are many times preoccupied to present our needs to God. We share our dreams and desires with God. But Mary’s words point out to us the need to listen. We must take time in prayer to listen for the Word of the Lord.
The Words of John’s Gospel in this story also find resonance in us in our sacramental life. We have gathered for the Eucharist, we have listened to the Word of the Lord, we will have the opportunity to share changed wine and changed bread, the Blood and Body of Jesus. Mary and Jesus wish to be part of our ordinary life. Jesus promises fulfillment to us too. We must listen to the Word of the Lord and then carry it out. John ends this story with the words, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee…” The first part of John’s Gospel has been titled “The book of Signs”. The second part is titled “The Book of Glory”. Like the disciples we have the opportunity to share in Jesus glory and to believe in him. We must follow Jesus. The Gospels open up to us what this following means, not just for the disciples of Jesus time, but for us. The original ending of this Gospel, the end of Ch. 20 we hear the author’s purpose:”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” We can use Ordinary time to deepen our relationship with Jesus and accept the challenge to follow the example of his words and actions.
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