This past February I went to a gathering in Taylorville coined If:Local. It was a simulcast of an event held in Texas called If:Gathering; the brain child of author/speaker Jennie Allen and some other 30-something women in ministry. It was pretty loose and the “agenda” wasn’t always really clear from the pre-event synopsis. But it asks women to consider “IF God is real, THEN what.” It was a beautiful convergence of speaker’s from different denominational backgrounds coming together to motivate a generation of women. I hope to write something a little more coherent and in depth on that event and the effect it (and Jennie’s new book, Restless and a bible study led by a wonderful woman named Kim) has had on me soon (maybe after I re-watch the digital recordings of the event!)
I explain that as an introduction to why I find myself reading and studying John:2:1-11 tonight. The “If” team has been walking through the book of John with hundreds of women (and some men) for the last 40-some days asking us to read and respond to the questions “IF God is real, THEN what do these passages mean about 1-God, 2-me, 3-the world.” Unfortunately with my other bible study things going on right now (and other life) I’ve not had the time to keep up with them daily, so I’m obviously WAAAAY behind.
But that’s okay. Because even when I’m behind in my study, I can still see God’s hand in the timing of things. I’m not sure that if I read this any earlier I would have had the fresh perspective on the wedding in Cana that I did tonight. For some reason, in this place, in this time, I see God moving in me and giving me different eyes with which to see. I’m not sure my vision was the same 40 days ago.
And frankly, timing and God’s hand in everything, even the details, is what struck me most about the wedding in Cana tonight. I had every intention of doing a couple of days of catch up (a couple of chapters or more) but couldn’t get past these 11 verses. While I”m absolutely certain I’m not the first person who’s ever noticed this, I was floored by a new understanding of this passage.
Let me start with the passage, so you don’t have to go look it up for a refresher This is the ESV version:
2 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
At the end of John 1, Jesus had just started calling his first disciples. According to John, the next day, Jesus attends a wedding that a good number of these new disciples were also attending (which we know both by the common customs of Jewish weddings at the time as well as the statement from John that “His disciples believed in Him” at the end of vs. 11.) At this wedding His mother asks Him to fix a problem: the host ran out of wine. Though He reminds his mother that His “hour has not yet come” He turns the water that is nearby into wine. This is the first opportunity Jesus has to interact with the public with His new disciples, his first “teaching” opportunity, and what does He do? He turns water into wine.
Now I’ve heard several sermons on this event. Ones that espouse how He was a good earthly son trying to handle things for His mother because His father was gone at this point. Ones that espouse how He had to have these “signs” as He was beginning His ministry. And ones that speak about the fact that the servants recognized the action of Jesus and that “common” and marginalized people whet always the ones to recognize Jesus and this being a theme throughout John. And these lessons are all well and good.
But I think I’ve always glanced over the actual “water” and “wine” and focused too much on the “miracle.” Yes, changing something to something that it is not is miraculous. Awesome Sauce. But last night I saw this passage with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. My Life Application Study Bible has the following note:
The six stone water jars were normally used for ceremonial washing… According to the Jews’ ceremonial law, people became symbolically unclean by touching objects of everyday life. Before eating the Jews would pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves of any bad influences associated with what they had touched.
Okay, guys, this seems HUGE to me!!! Because what else is “unclean” because of the influence of sin and the world? Hmm? HMMM??? That’s RIGHT: ME! YOU! ALL OF US! And, as the song goes: What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the BLOOD OF JESUS. And what does JESUS use as a symbol of His cleansing blood in one of His last interactions with His disciples? That’s right: WINE!
The absolutely most attractive quality of God/Jesus in my mind is His ability to redeem ALL things for good (see Romans 8:28). And I see this redemptive power through this symbolism that starts with one of the first interactions Jesus has with the disciples and ends with one of the last. It comes full circle. Jesus takes the water that Jews had turned into a symbol of cleansing and turned it into the best wine at the party. He didn’t think about it causing a problem later when the household was out of “cleansing” water, because HE had come to take the place of all the ceremonies, sacrifices and symbols. And many of these ceremonies and symbols had become legalistic rituals, added over time in addition to the actual directives of God to His people. Because when in the world, even the things that began for God can become perverted and corrupted.
But all can be redeemed… even things we’ve messed up and gotten wrong…
Because then, some time later, Jesus takes wine and uses it as a symbol of the blood He would shed to cleanse us all, once and for all, forever. Full circle-from the beginning of His ministry to the end. The Jews’ cleansing water turned to wine, then wine used as a symbol to remind us all that only one thing can truly cleanse us and it is the one thing we most need: Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus.
Besides thoughts on all things “If” and the positive affect getting back into a study with outer women has had on my life recently, also on deck to come soon: Gaining small victories over fear; New perspectives on God’s definition of “good” and “bad” when contemplating the question “why does God allow bad things to happen”; and Giving grace in the grey…
(of course, that pre-supposes time to write, and time is in short supply right now… so they may not come SUPER soon… but keep an eye out )