Weddings! There was a time when wedding feasts – or wedding ‘breakfasts’ as they were once referred to – would consist of two families coming together for the first time, rarely if ever mixing over the course of several hours of eating, drinking and dancing, hopefully not arguing or worse, and then saying ’farewell’ to the departing bride and groom as they are ceremoniously driven off to spend the rest of their lives together. A reflection of a bye-gone age? Or just wishful thinking? Or would a wedding in Cana 2000 years ago have been very different?
The fact is we know nothing of the human context of the story of this wedding at Cana in Galilee but we are told by John that the event marks the beginning, the ‘first sign’ of Jesus’s public ministry. It is Mary who opens and closes the initial dialogue: ‘they have no wine’……’do as he says’. Now running out of wine would potentially have brought great shame on the host. Of course it wouldn’t happen today with the social convention we now know as BYOB (‘bring your own bottle’) being perfectly acceptable for any number of parties, business meetings or whatever you want to call them.
There is a very distinctive relationship here between mother and son perhaps recalling the words of the Israelites at Sinai and at the ritual that seals the covenant between God and people: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do’ (Ex.19). So Mary turns to the servants and says: ‘Whatever he says to you, do’ (v 5). Her role is now done and she steps away. Jesus now issues one word of command after another, and the servants oblige by ‘doing’ the words of Jesus: ‘fill the jars’, ‘fill with water’, ‘fill to the brim’, ‘draw some out’, ‘take it to the chief steward’….The outcome we know. Jesus has indicated that the hour of the full revelation of God (in Jesus’s own death and resurrection) has not yet come yet we are left in no doubt that the messianic age is symbolically inaugurated with an abundance of this very best wine.
So is it simply enough to ‘bring your own bottle’ to the feast? I think not. The ‘bottle’ that we bring is the bottle that is ourselves. This gospel speaks as directly to us as it does to his first disciples. Jesus is not simply a miracle worker; rather this first sign points elsewhere. And note that the otherwise silent witnesses that are the disciples are mentioned, once at the beginning (v.1) and now at the end (v.11). They are for the moment ‘hearers’ of Jesus’s words, but this first sign means that that they and us are being challenged to be ‘doers’.