Lectionary This Week: January 17

Who doesn’t enjoy a romantic wedding with a festive celebration? Although the wedding at Cana took place thousands of years ago, 21st century people can still relate to the hard work and money that go into creating the perfect wedding day.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that the average couple spends $26,444 on their wedding and receptionWhile this may seem exorbitant, much of the cost of the wedding is in providing a nice meal and maybe even an open bar. It’s the cost of providing hospitality to the special people and honored guests who attend the wedding.

Hospitality is important in our culture. But if we mess it up, it doesn’t come with the same social stigma and shame that it would have brought at the wedding at Cana. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures held hospitality in extremely high regard. In an “honor-shame” culture where one’s honor could be “lost,” poor hospitality would have been devastating and shameful.

Fortunately for the bridegroom in this passage, Jesus saves the day.

The Passage: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Wedding at Cana: Jesus Covers Our Shame

Understanding the shamefulness of poor hospitality in the ancient Middle East is the key to unpacking the significance of the wedding at Cana.

Mary must have been close enough to the family to realize the impending disaster of dry wine barrels. She uses her motherly influence to ask Jesus to help the family preserve its honor and avoid a scandal. There’s nothing in the passage to indicate that the bridegroom was aware of the problem, but  Jesus covers their shame and discreetly preserves their honor.

Not only did he provide wine, he provided the best quality wine — and a lot of it! If there were six jars of 20-30 gallons each, then Jesus created between 120-180 gallons of wine. Think about that. That would be the equivalent of 302 and 470 bottles of wine. He covered their shame and even brought a little extra honor by helping them provide extravagant hospitality.

The passage refers to this miracle as the “first of his signs.” Signs point us towards what is to come. Jesus’ first miracle covered the shame of the bride and the bridegroom — gifting them with honor that they didn’t necessarily deserve.

The wedding at Cana and the miracle of turning water into wine was a sign that pointed to what Jesus would later do for all of humankind. His death and resurrection was the final miracle of his earthly ministry — one that covered our shame and gave us the honor of being called daughters and sons of God.