(This post is from last night's Vespers homily.)
The Gospel lesson this past Sunday was John 2.1-11, the narrative of Jesus' transformation of water to wine at the wedding in Cana. This episode in Jesus ministry is, of course, a miraculous event, but John is more particular in how he describes it: this event was "the first of His signs." This was a sign, a symbolic action performed to reveal Jesus and His purpose. John not only tells us the nature of this event, but also its effect: this sign "manifested His glory" with the result that "His disciples believed in Him."
A few observations about this sign:
From water of cleansing to wine of the feast
First, John makes it clear the water Jesus transforms is not just water in general: this is the water for Israel's cleansing: "Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification..." (Jn. 2.6) As the covenant people of God, Israel was particularly near to God, in covenant relation with Him; and to be near to the holy God requires cleansing: "Who shall ascend the hill of Yahweh? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart..." (Ps. 24.3-4) This is what the Tabernacle and Temple system was about: cleansing Israel so they may draw near to the Lord.
In transforming this water, water for jars there for Israel's purification rites, Jesus signals that He is bringing about the cleansing of Israel, and of the world, and bringing them to feast with their God. Remember, in the chapter before this Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptizer. His baptism was the cleansing on behalf of the nation, and now it's time to feast.
The jars themselves are significant, as well. Remember, when a Spirit-led writer of Scripture goes into specific details in a narrative, we need to pay close attention. The Spirit is the breath of God, and God does not waste His breath. The substance, size, and number of these jars are are important.
First, these are jars of stone. We've already noted that Jesus is transforming water for Jewish purification. When God gave the Torah to Israel from Mt. Sinai, He inscribed the Ten Words on tablets of stone. These tablets of the Torah became a symbol of all of Torah and were kept in the ark of the covenant in the Sanctuary.
Second, these are big jars, 20 to 30 gallons. That's about human-size. That tells us, of course, that this was a lot of water, and thus a lot of wine. But it also may indicate that these jars represent Torah, as stone jars, but they also represent people, the people of Torah.
Third, there are six of these jars. At this point in John, Jesus has called six disciples. So, all of these details taken together, John seems to be inviting us to make the following connections: These jars represent Israel, the people of Torah, being filled up with the water of cleansing. Specifically, they are the community of Jesus' disciples, formed as a renewed Israel in Jesus, who will be cleansed from the filth of sin by Jesus, and from whom will be poured out true wine of God's table, the blood of the Son poured out for the life of the world.
This sign shows us our mission as the Church: we are called to be receive cleansing as we are washed with the forgiveness of sin, united to Jesus in His death and resurrection. We are called to come to the feast and receive the body and blood of the Lord. And we are called to be like these jars, pouring out the blood of Christ for the cleansing of the nations, of our neighborhoods and workplaces, and inviting all to come to the feast of the true Bridegroom.
Finally, John tells us this sign manifested Jesus' glory. That seems to make sense at first: this is an incredibly miracle. Jesus takes water and turns it to wine, and an abundance of fine wine at that! But as we look more closely, that's not exactly the kind of glory Jesus' receives here. Jesus doesn't step forward to thunderous applause. The only people who know what happened are His disciples and the servants! The master of the feast thinks the bridegroom had some reserve stash of choice wine, and the bridegroom himself is almost certainly flabbergasted.
But precisely this is what Jesus' glory is like. Jesus glories in exalting the low, in glorifying others. This is the nature of God's glory: for all eternity, the Father delights in the glory of the Son, the Son glories in the Father, and the Spirit glorifies the Father and Son. Jesus life is all about exalting the Father, but whenever we hear from the Father in the gospels, He calls people to look at Jesus. When the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son, He brings to our minds all Jesus taught us, and the cycle continues. The glory of Jesus is the glory of humility, the glory of exalting the other.
Paul calls us to follow this pattern in our life as the body of Christ: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2.5-11)