Even Jesus knew the quickest way to our heart was through the stomach. The highlights of his ministry and teaching, given to us by the gospel writers, often place Jesus among food and drink. Whether he was having meals with his disciples, outsiders, the unlikely, the Pharisees or even feeding massive crowds with little resources, Jesus was constantly the life of the party.
But there’s one stand-alone story in which Jesus is just a humble guest. At a wedding in the small village of Cana, Jesus and his plus 12, find themselves among a poorly planned celebration. The wine had ran out. A wave of embarrassment was heading towards the hosts. In desperation, Mary prompts her son to do something. Jesus takes the large, washing jugs (truly disgusting water when you think about how many hands have been washed in there) and transforms the germ water into top-of-the-line wine.
Now let me be honest, I have never performed a miraculous sign. I have no right to be unimpressed by a miracle. But based on what we know about Jesus’ other miracles, this one is not as jaw-dropping. Yet, John seems to think that this is an important launching pad for understanding Jesus’ ministry. John will even say that this moment “reveals the glory” of Jesus. But how?
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Casting out demons, raising people from the dead, healing the sick, those are the miracles we think of as prime examples of Jesus’ glory. In fact, it’s possible that only the disciples knew exactly what happened here at Cana (maybe Jesus did not want the guest to know what water he just used!).
So how does changing water into wine at wedding in a small village “reveal Jesus’ glory”? Is there a more meaningful sign behind his act?
There can be a kaleidoscope of meaning within an act or teaching from Jesus like this one. Because of this, there are different ways to explain this rather odd story (it’s unique to John’s gospel) as the starting point for Jesus’ ministry. Our starting point, and one we should habitually start with when we have confusion about what Jesus is doing, is with the Old Testament.
As the Old Testament prophets envisioned the day when God would bring restoration and establish his kingdom, they used shared language of a great feast being prepared by the Lord. When they wanted to describe what it would be like when God enacted salvation, they used food and drink abundance as their image. For theologians, this idea is summed up in the phrase “messianic banquet”.
One of the clearest passages in the Old Testament about the messianic banquet is found in the book of Isaiah (you can also find others in Joel 2:24-26, Ezk. 34:14 and Isa. 65:13-14). Notice the bountiful language Isaiah uses:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
When Isaiah sees the day that God is victorious over death and saves his people, a great feast is awaiting. When God acts, a banquet of abundant food and wine would flow.
So let’s think about Jesus at the wedding. In this moment, Jesus provides a outpouring of wine and then we are told this “revealed his glory”. That glory is revealed in Jesus bringing a glimpse of the messianic banquet to the wedding. His Jewish, Old Testament-knowing followers would have certainly grasped this powerful moment as Jesus provided “a banquet of aged wine” for the wedding. The messianic banquet of the future was breaking into the world and being celebrated. The hope that Isaiah saw, that death would soon be defeated and God’s kingdom would come, was coming to fruition even now at a wedding in Cana.
Jesus’ actions are telling the people that the hope of salvation is here and you can see its arrival within the giant jugs of wine. Jesus was celebrating the arrival of God’s kingdom and inviting others to celebrate. The groom was here and it was time to party, not time to mourn (Matt. 9:14-15).
The story here in John is Jesus giving us insight into his ministry’s purpose. At this wedding, Jesus reveals his plan for salvation. In his changing of water to wine, he invites people to celebrate his coming accomplishment.
Jesus later gives us a meal, bread and wine (not just crackers and tiny cups) to recall his victory over sin and death. Food and drink is embedded into the DNA of a Jesus follower. As followers of Jesus, we too are called to celebrate, to partake in the messianic banquet. And not just celebrate it alone, but to invite the unlikely (as Jesus consistently did) into food and drink fellowship. There is something so simple and yet so powerful about sharing a meal with others. Your invitation, your provision of a meal to someone can be a moment that reveals Jesus. Your celebration of Thanksgiving this week could be a moment to reveal Jesus to others. We have been given great reason to celebrate, so let’s invite others to party with Jesus.