Have you ever tried to tell a story and been frustrated because the other person failed to listen long enough to make all the connections, and so got the wrong message? This is the danger we face when we approach the Gospel reading for this week. The “water to wine” story is so well known, but we need to be careful not to ignore the connections the writer is trying to make. Three significant ideas appear in this story. They are key to John’s message about Jesus, and the story is designed to help us understand them.
The first verse of John 2 specifies that the wedding was “on the third day”. This is the first idea.The start of John’s Gospel takes us quickly through a collections of the first days of Jesus’ ministry. We’ see John the Baptiser’s encounter with Jesus, and those oof various disciples who respond to him, and finally decide to follow him. Now, on the third day something happens that completely changes how they see Jesus. The reason for the reference to the third day, is to make sure we don’t miss John’s primary message. All Jesus’ signs are important, but none as powerful or significant as the third day of all third days – the day of resurrection. The water-to-wine incident is a metaphor for the resurrected life that Jesus will experience and will offer to all. Resurrection is not just about coming alive again. It’s about a whole new quality of life – eternal life, life of the ages, life lived in the fullness of God’s Reign and God’s enlivening power. Until we have entered the life of resurrection – or been “born again” as Jesus expresses it to Nicodemus in John 3 – our lives are as plain and ordinary as water. But once we’ve tasted of Christ’s life we experience the good wine of resurrection. Here at the outset of the Gospel, John is already pointing to what will come, and to the offer of life that his Gospel presents.
In order to receive this life, though, we need to recognise in Jesus the glory of God. Glory is the second significant idea. In the prologue, John mentions that believers have “seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14b CEB). This glory is the manifestation of God through the human Jesus. It is part of what Jesus means when he says that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (14:9). But, the particular glory to which John refers is “full of grace and truth”. For John the primary expression of God’s glory is in the crucifixion of Jesus. So, once again, John is pointing us forward, by showing, in this simple act of compassion, the glory of God that will be fully revealed on the cross. Why should it be this act that reveals Christ’s glory? To run out of wine would have had severe consequences for the bridal couple and their family. It was the kind of social mistake that could cause them to be ostracised for years to come. Although much of Jesus ministry involved making the outcasts welcome, here he prevents people from becoming outcasts in the first place – which, surely, is the quintessential expression of the inclusivity of God’s Reign.
The final result of all this is that the disciples “believe in him” (2:11). Belief is the third significant idea. John often draws a distinction between faith that is based in miracles and faith that is based in the man. In the latter part of Chapter Two, the Pharisees ask for a sign so that they can believe. Jesus’ response is most unsatisfying for them. However, many people do believe because of the miraculous signs Jesus performs. Nicodemus even comes to Jesus at night because of these signs.But, awe at miracles was not the kind of faith Jesus was looking for. He sought a faith that recognised God’s glory in himself. This is the kind of faith that the disciples begin to experience in this story. It is also the kind of faith to which the Gospel calls its readers (see 20:31).
So, what does all of this mean for us? Jesus invites us to be transformed, to enter into an unquenchable aliveness that transcends even death. However, we do not find this life in miracles, we find it in the person of Jesus and in the reality which he proclaimed and demonstrated – the Reign of God. So, we are called to look beyond the signs we may encounter to the glory of God in Christ. We are called to trust that Jesus really does show us the character and purpose of God – gracious and true and sacrificial. And then, if we will allow it to, this experience of God’s glory can lead us to faith that enables us to live this resurrection life. If we are able to make this journey, then the true miracle is in the life we discover – a life that endures and that remains fully engaged and active no matter what crosses may try to quench it.