On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This is the first miracle of Jesus’s public ministry; his emergence out of those secret years we know so little about and into a very visible season. In this first miracle, this ‘first supper’ that we see him at, Jesus foreshadows what will happen at the last supper: something ordinary made extraordinary: water to wine; bread to body; wine to blood. This is of course part of who Jesus is inherently, as a man who is also God.
Jesus reveals His power through this first public miracle, and also His identity as the Bridegroom of the Church. Church tradition holds that it was surely no accident that Jesus chose a wedding to perform His first miracle — for as a man and woman give up their bodies and their lives to each other in marriage and move together towards deeper freedom and intimacy, so Jesus would give up His body for His church in the Great Miracle that began at the breaking of bread at the last supper and culminated in His resurrection through which we are all set free from the wages of Sin that is Death.
Jesus revealed something else in this miracle: that He wants to work with his Bridegroom, the Church, in order to accomplish his wonders. He so desires that miracles are a fruit of His working together with us — a co-labouring relationship much like any fruitful marriage. This becomes very apparent when we consider the water in this miracle. Remember that Jesus is, of course, all powerful. He is the Son of God and one of three members of the Godhead, and literally nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore it would have been so easy for him to turn an empty vessel straight into one which was filled with wine, all by himself without any assistance from anyone else — certainly no more difficult than speaking creation into being from nothing. So, why does He ask the servants to fill up the jars with water first? Why add an interim step? Why add a middle man?
Perhaps it is because He wants to work with us in order to accomplish His wonders. We are encouraged by Mary: ‘do whatever He tells you.’ He asks only that we surrender to Him and do what He asks with good courage, giving it our absolute best shot — even if the offering we make as a result doesn’t seem to us like it could do that much good. We can imagine the servants in this situation: they are in the middle of a crisis. The wine has run out, and perhaps for some of them, they are worried it will be perceived as their fault. They are embarrassed on behalf of their master the host, and they are anxious to solve the problem and for the party not to run dry.
When Jesus then asks them to fill up the vessels with water, the servants must have been thinking “what will this solve? How could this possibly fix anything? The guests are thirsty for wine, not for water!” And yet, they listened and obeyed. And they didn’t only obey half-heartedly: they gave the fulfilment of Jesus’ command their absolute best shot: “they filled them to the brim.” And Jesus took what they had done, and turned it to wine — the “best wine.” What wonders Jesus works when we give the best we can give in response to His call.
Sometimes our offerings seem so feeble and ordinary. Yet, we must press on with the knowledge that for God, water can become wine, and five loaves can feed five thousand, and the bread that was broken and the wine that was poured at the last supper almost two thousand years ago can still sustain us today. In His miracles, He asks that we listen and give all that we do have in a whole hearted way, ready to move at His command and do what He asks: ‘fill the jars with water,’ (John 2:7); ‘give them something to eat yourselves’ (Luke 9:13); ‘do this in memory of me’ (Luke 22:19).
God delights in working with us in this way. I think of a father and son chopping wood, or going fishing, or hunting a deer: the father probably doesn’t need the son’s help, being perfectly capable himself of wielding an axe, catching a fish, or stalking that noble Highland beast — but the task and the result is far more joyful to both father and son as a result. God wants us to be involved in His life, the life of the Kingdom; He so badly wants to work through and with us to accomplish His wonders.
This is not about adopting a performance mentality of ‘doing’ as the foundation for an identity based on trying to earn God’s approval. God is the Great I AM, not the Great I DO. All His doing flows from His being as a relational being in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and He asks the same for us, that all of our doing would flow directly from our relationship with Him and our identity as His Son or Daughter. This relationship and knowledge of our identity inspires a desire to see His Kingdom come on Earth so that others can come into that fulness, and this in turn should inspire us to strive towards excellence in all that we do. Through a closeness with Him and a listening to Him, we should be able to ‘fill our jars to the brim’ and await with confidence to see what He will do with our humble yet whole-hearted offerings.