Exactly what Mary expected Jesus to do, we do not know. But she knows her son will act. Mary’s next words demonstrate her confidence that Jesus will honor her request.
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”
Of course, we know the story. Jesus tells the servants to fill several large jars with water. Then he tells them to take some of this “water” to the master the feast. The master then tastes the wine — for that is what it has become — and declares it to be better than the wines served earlier.
If the focus of this profile were on Jesus and his miracles, we would have a great deal more to say about the details of this amazing story. We would point out that the specific vessels to be filled with water where those used for ceremonial cleansing. Wine in the New Testament is often associated with blood, specifically with Jesus’ blood.
So we would point out that one of the great themes of the Gospel of John is the substitution of Jesus and his sacrifice for the Old Testament rituals. So here, the “wine” that Jesus provides in these vessels for cleansing, and which is better than the other wine already served the feast, is an intentional metaphor for the blood of Jesus.. His blood is a better remedy than the Old Testament rituals.
There are many other things we would point out, if the miracle itself, rather than Mary’s actions which occasioned it, were the focus. But here, we’re talking about Mary seizing the initiative. Mary is a remarkable character throughout the Gospels. But we primarily see her in an accepting and somewhat passive role. This is the only occasion where she is shown to take the initiative. And the results are incomparable.
You may think I’m making too much of all this. After all, Jesus may not have altered his schedule, it was “just another miracle” of the many he performed. Perhaps, if this story occurred in any of the other Gospels, that would be a telling argument. But it occurs only in John. And John, as you probably know, is differs from the other three Gospels. We call the other three “synoptic,” which means “to see the same,” because they present the events in the life of Jesus in a very similar way. But John differs significantly in terms of both the selection and sequence of the events in Jesus’ life.
One significant difference is that John does not speak of miracles. In John, these remarkable divine actions are referred to as “signs,” and only seven signs are recorded. Bible students familiar with the ancient’s mindset recognize that the number seven represents completion or perfection. So these seven “signs” in John do not purport to be all of the miracles Jesus performed – John in two places tells us that he has not included all of those wonderful acts in his gospel (John 20:30; 21:25) — rather, these seven signs represent the totality of Jesus’ mission. John offers these seven signs as milestones in Jesus’ complete and perfect ministry here on earth.
And that is why we know that this miracle at a small wedding in an obscure village packs such significance. Lest we miss its import, John concludes this episode with the following:
This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
No matter how many times I contemplate this episode, I find it impossible to comprehend the magnitude of what has happened here. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus strictly adheres to this divine schedule which he refuses to alter for any purpose. The taunts of his brothers do not move him to alter his schedule, crowds seeking to destroy him cannot lay hands on him because it is the wrong time in the schedule, and when his death is imminent, he insists on sticking to the schedule. His hour, the hour for which he has come to this earth, the hour when the most significant single event in the history of mankind must take place, this our he will not alter. Except once, for his mother, to save an unknown couple and their family in an obscure village embarrassment at their wedding.
Am I saying that God the Father did not foresee this request by Jesus’ mother? Did God not foresee that she would request Jesus to act before his “hour?” I do not know. Jesus apparently believes that this is not a part of his schedule; his hour has not yet come — he says so! And yet he acts. And this action is not a footnote, or a sidelight, or an addition. It is the first of his signs. There are only seven, signifying his complete and perfect ministry on earth, and this one, this rescue of a wedding feast to save a couple embarrassment, is incorporated into those few signs!
It seems to me that God honored Jesus’ mother’s request by altering the divine schedule, and making the honoring of that request integral to his ministry.
Is there anything comparable throughout Scripture? If there is, it escapes me. God made the sun stand still for Joshua; he made it back up for Hezekiah. But these only involved material objects. These actions seem remarkable to us, but for God who can call them into existence or snuff them out with a word, moving stars and planets about are are relatively trivial matters. But to alter the divine plan for the savior’s life, a plan which suffers no other such interference, to honor the request of a woman over a matter so otherwise inconsequential — this beggars the imagination!
“To alter the divine plan for the savior’s life, a plan which suffers no other such interference, to honor the request of a woman over a matter so otherwise inconsequential — this beggars the imagination!
Blaise Pascal said that God gives humans “the dignity of causality.” Our prayers and choices effect eternity. This episode reveals two amazing things about God.
First, he cares even about the small things in our lives. In this case about the momentary embarrassment and discomfiture of a newlywed peasant family. And second, that he will alter his eternal plans—whatever that means—in order to grant the request of a single individual who loves and has faith in him. Astonishing!
Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.