by John Hemer MHM
When we read Johnís gospel it often helps to imagine the evangelist telling something but winking at the same time. The Gospel often means much more than what we see on the surface. So John tells us that the wine failed, and that six stone jars were standing there, we could almost add in brackets: (wink wink). Is it the wine that has run out or is it something else? What has really run out is Judaism, or should I say the rather laborious Judaism of the Pharisees. People have been drinking this Ďwineí for centuries and it has served them well. But now with Jesus on the scene it is no longer enough.
The 6 stone jars are there for the Jewish rites of purification. They are an image of a certain view of God and religion where everything is rather hard work. They represent the idea that youíve got to keep purifying yourself in order to be at rights with God. Water is essential, we canít live without it, but it is rather bland and insipid. The religion of hard work and self improvement has its place, but itís very pedestrian and can often lack joy. Jesus offers so much more. Into those six jars which contain something essential but rather unexciting Jesus putsÖ.well what does wine represent? Joy, celebration, happiness, yes and maybe even a degree of intoxication. John is telling us that when we met Jesus and get to know him and allow him to work on our lives itís as if our water changes to wine. Outwardly our lives may well stay the same, we remain in the same place, do the same job but inwardly everything changes. Adult converts often testify to the huge change Christ makes in their lives, of how they experience deep joy and peace and a sense of purpose and direction that they never knew before. Their lives change from water into wine.
The alert reader who knows his Old Testament will also recall something Isaiah said about what things would be like when God finally came to visit his people:
John is telling us that this is whatís happening with the coming of Jesus. In the previous chapter, 1 verse 17 we read: The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Law, good as it was, was like water. Grace and truth are like wine, a way of relating to God and to each other previously unimagined, richer and much more satisfying. And Jesus makes a lot of wine, 120 gallons at least. You canít drink all that at once, and as it ages it gets better. We keep finding new depth, new meaning to our faith. We thought we understand it all and then something new is revealed to us. We read the same scriptures time and again, but they continue to reveal new depths and new meaning to us.
In each of the four gospels the public life of Jesus begins with his encounter with John the Baptist, and one of the things the evangelists are trying to do is show us the essential difference between Jesus and John. John is very good, very pure and uncompromising and Jesus admires him. But his understanding of God is inadequate. Johnís religion is all hard work, if we are to be at rights with God weíve got to do it all ourselves. With Jesus, even people who have made a real mess of their lives are offered a chance to start all over again, without as it were having to pay everything back. John, good as he is, is like water, Jesus is like wine. Perhaps the marriage feast at Cana is a living illustration of the difference between the two. Jesus says of John: 'In truth I tell you, of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. (Mt. 11:11) To a man with a raging thirst, plain cold water is the greatest gift, but we have greater appetites than that. If course Jesus gives us living water too, but so much more. Or as he said: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jn. 10:10)