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The Wedding at Cana and Jesus' Response to Mary

by Brant Pitre January 14, 2019 0 Comments


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Now Jesus responds to her by saying, "Woman, what's that to you and to me?" (literally, in the Greek) The RSV is a little strong here with this, "What do you have to do with me?” It makes it sound like the opposition is between Mary and Jesus, but actually, the Greek is a little different. "What to you and to me?" In other words, "how does this situation concern us?" Which is a good question to ask, even on a human level, because Jesus and Mary are both guests at the wedding, right? I mean, if you go to a wedding and they run out of wine and you're a guest, it's your problem in the sense that you don't have any wine to drink, but it's not your problem in the sense that you have a responsibility to fix it. You're a guest, you're not the host. That's the responsibility of the host. But Jesus says something else, he says, "My hour has not yet come."

So, in John's gospel, that points forward to his passion and death, the hour of the cross, the hour of his passion. And so, mysteriously, somehow Mary's words, “they have no wine,” Jesus has taken them not just to refer to the problem of the practical loss of wine, but somehow to refer to the hour of his passion and his death. Why does he go there? How does he get from "A" to "Z"? How does he get from "running out of wine" to "the hour of the cross"? I think the answer lies in the messianic banquet tradition of ancient Judaism. If you go back to the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah, for example, chapter 25, Isaiah says that when the age of salvation comes, there will be a feast of fine wine, of wine on the lees well-refined, and that all the nations will come to this feast, and that when they drink of this wine and eat of this sacrificial banquet, they will swallow up death forever and their sins will be forgiven.

In Jewish tradition it came to become called the "messianic banquet", the banquet of the messiah, which would be particularly characterized by super abundant wine. So when Mary says "they have no wine" and invites Jesus, as a guest, to solve the problem, in a first century Jewish context, and in the context of Mary's knowledge of who Jesus is, right, Jesus also perceives there an implicit request to reveal his identity as the Messiah, and to, in a sense, inaugurate the messianic banquet. And what Jesus says to Mary, effectively, is "it's not time for that banquet just yet. My hour has not yet come." But, as a good Jew, who is obedient to his mother, he solves the problem at the wedding at Cana, and in doing so, performs a sign that points forward to what he will accomplish when his hour finally does come. So he calls the servants, they pour the water out, he changes water to wine, and not just a little, it's about 180 gallons of wine. So it's 6 jars, 30 gallons each. That’s a lot of wine. I always like to say this to my students, "that's proof that Jesus was Catholic, right?"

Because there are some Christians who are teetotalers, who reject all drinking of wine. Jesus here doesn't just make some wine, he makes 180 gallons of it. He makes super abundant wine. So what happens is once the wine's brought to the steward of the feast and he tastes it, he immediately goes to the bridegroom, who is unnamed, but whose Greek word, nymphios, is a reference to the groom, the man who is being married that day. The irony here is that the steward thanks the bridegroom for providing the wine, but you as the reader know that the bridegroom of that festival had nothing to do with it. Who provided the wine? Well, it was Jesus. So what happens is, through Mary's invitation, Jesus takes the role of the bridegroom and miraculously changes water into wine at this wedding feast.

Now why does that matter? Well, for one thing, it reveals to us that Jesus isn't just the King of Israel, he isn't just the Messiah, or the Savior, or the Son of God, or the Great Exorcist, or the Great Teacher, or the Great Prophet. He's all those things, but at the very onset of his ministry, at his heart, at the heart of his ministry, he is revealing that he is also (or should I say, he is first and foremost), the Bridegroom. Because, as we're going to see in a moment, in the Old Testament, the bridegroom, who provides the miraculous feast, who brings in the age of salvation is God himself. The prophets describe God himself as the Divine Bridegroom.

So the wedding at Cana becomes a revelation both of Jesus' messianic identity, but also of his divine identity, his divinity. He is the Divine Bridegroom who has come in person to inaugurate the great wedding supper of the lamb, the feast of salvation, the banquet of the kingdom of God.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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