The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus
17. Cana (John 2:1-12)
On the way to Bethsaida with his first six disciples, Jesus stopped off at Cana to attend a wedding. It seems that he was invited only as an after-thought, perhaps by Nathaniel who was from that area or possibly through the good offices of Mary who apparently was a friend of the family and who had spent some days there helping with the preparations.
It is not surprising that Mary might have hinted rather strongly for an invitation for her son, saying:
How nice it would be to have my boy and his six friends here. They will be passing through and will not be any trouble at all!
The fact that her son had been away from her for two months and that this was their first long separation perhaps explains her unrealistic claim that "they would be no trouble at all". In fact the seven great clods would be much trouble for the poor family that extended the invitation. At very least their healthy appetites would increase the catering costs and indeed may have been partially responsible for the lack of wine that was discovered later on. Certainly they could not be expected to "help out" beyond simply staying out of the way and not breaking anything with their enthusiastic but lumbering dancing. The seven healthy young men were more adept at consuming feasts than preparing them.
Jesus was glad to accept the invitation. It was a happy event, one of the few grand happy times that ordinary people could look forward to in their otherwise drab lives. A wedding party was an occasion planned for and saved for from the moment of birth of the prospective bride or groom. Parents would begin putting aside a little money and then over time buying up the very best wedding wine available. This would be carefully hidden away (sometimes for many years) until the day of the wedding, that wonderful day when a groom took his bride into his house forever. On such a day the whole town danced in honor of the couple. The young man and woman were honored as a king and queen perhaps for the first (and only) time in their lives. On the day of their wedding they ruled the hearts of all because their innocent love reminded the celebrators of their own wonderful days when they loved and were loved without reservation.
Jesus must have been glad to attend even from a purely human point of view. A wedding was a pure unadulterated time of joy with good food, good wine, good friends and lots of dancing. It would be the last truly good time he would have as a human being. As yet no one knew him as healer or preacher or troublemaker. He was just "that carpenter from Nazareth". He was known more by being the son of Mary and Joseph than by any personal accomplishment. People left him alone and because of this anonymity he could go to a party and truly have fun. It would not be so in the future. When he went to banquets later on, he would be surrounded by people with an "axe to grind". People would be either whispering about him or worshipping him. In any case it would be no place to hug a friend. You can't hug somebody who is always looking down on you or looking up to you.
He also had a second, more profound reason for accepting the invitation. Later on he would say:
Where two or three are gathered in love, there am I in the midst of them.
A marriage day is a day for such love. There is no more dramatic example of human love than a couple saying to each other:
My love, I shall be yours forever! I shall give up my selfishness and isolation to become one in body and spirit with you. I shall give up all past entanglements and projects so that I may run with you into our future.
Jesus liked that type of talking because it was his sincere hope that every human would one day say such words to him.
Considering the intensity of the celebration and the additional guests, it is no wonder that the wine ran low. It was a true disaster. Without wine the party would stop and this terrible embarrassment would forever sour the reputation of the family responsible. Mary and the others working in the kitchen noticed the problem first. She took immediate action. She went to Jesus and said simply
They have no wine.
... words to a son that always carry the implied motherly wish:
Please do something about it!
Apparently Jesus was somewhat reluctant. His first response to his mother's request was:
My lady, it is not the time nor the place for me to do my first miracle.
But having said "No" as politely as he could, he then went ahead and did exactly what his mother asked him to do. Indeed, he did even more. He gave the "most of the best", making delicious wine from the gallons of water filling the six huge jars at the door of the house.
He did this small miracle to celebrate the great miracle of a young couple's love. He changed his mind and did it because his mother asked him to do it. It was to be his special wedding gift to two humans truly in love. In this instance he gave them wine; but more, he gave them himself.
It would be a party long talked about in the area, one of those great stories in the history of a village that was passed down from generation to generation. We know it now as the occasion for the first recorded miracle that Jesus-God did in his pilgrim journey on earth. It is fitting that it should have been done to celebrate the magic of love.
On the day of their marriage the couple left their childhood homes never to return again. And so too would it be for Jesus. When the party finally ended (now because of exhausted celebrators not exhausted wine), Jesus went with his six disciples and his mother to a small village on the Sea of Galilee named Capharnaum. Never again would he live in the place where he had grown up. Henceforth his only "place" on earth would be deep inside those whose hearts were filled with love.
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