The first miracle Jesus worked as presented in John’s Gospel overflows with lessons. He wasn’t planning to begin his public life that day, but Jesus was open to God’s prompting him through his mother Mary. Sometimes it’s good to pay attention to others’ suggestions.
The setting of the miracle itself is significant. The fact that Jesus was at a wedding shows that he had a social life. He probably enjoyed celebrating the marriage of the bride and groom, hobnobbing with his relatives and neighbors, and feasting on the sumptuous meal. I imagine he danced with the other men, like I witnessed men doing at a wedding in Arabia.
Of course, this miracle illustrates the sway Mary has over her divine Son. As the story goes, the wine ran out at the wedding. (Someone surmised that this was because Jesus was accompanied by the twelve apostles!) Mary, who perhaps was helping with the refreshments, noticed the crisis. She understood how embarrassed the young couple and their parents would be when their guests asked the waiters to refill their glasses and there wasn’t any wine left. From that day on their memories of the wedding would be painful.
Confidently, Mary approached her Son and simply murmured, “They have no wine.” At first Jesus hesitated. He said something like, “So what? It’s none of our business.” He pointed out that it wasn’t the time for him to act like the Messiah. But then the young Jewish man responded to his mother’s implied plea. We can count on Mary to intercede for us when we are in need.
Mary believed that Jesus would help. Her faith was such that she ordered the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” (This has been called “Mary’s commandment.” We too are to do whatever Jesus says.)
There were six stone water jars there. Jesus proceeded to provide the largest six-pack ever. He said to the waiters, “Fill these to the brim.” Even though the waiters must have wondered what a carpenter could do about supplying wine, they obeyed Mary and did as Jesus said. She must have been a powerful woman in the community.
Then, as the poet Richard Crashaw wrote, “The conscious waters saw their Master and blushed.” Jesus told the waiters to take some of this new wine to the head steward. (Imagine the shock on the waiters’ faces when they drew wine from the water jars.) After tasting the wine, the steward said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests are drunk. But you have kept the best wine until now.” No doubt the bridegroom was puzzled.
Not only was the wine excellent; it was abundant. Each jar held twenty or thirty gallons, which meant that Jesus provided about 150 gallons of wine—more than enough to go around for the days the wedding lasted. (Jewish weddings could take seven days.) God often surprises us by blessing us with more than we would ever need or even dream of. Witness the Eucharist where Jesus again provides miraculous wine over and over throughout the world.
The plentiful wine in Cana was a sign of God’s kingdom where “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9:13).
St. John does not say that Mary took credit for jumpstarting this first miracle of Jesus. She probably just winked at her Son and smiled sweetly. Then she and Jesus enjoyed a fresh cup of wine.
A further thought: St. Augustine noted, ““We take for granted the slow miracle whereby water in the irrigation of a vineyard becomes wine. It is only when Christ turns water into wine, in a quick motion, as it were, that we stand amazed.”
• When has God given you more that you ever hoped for?