John 2:1–5 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Understanding the Word. While scholars have debated which Cana might be referred to in John 2, it seems reasonably clear that it is the Cana that is about four miles from Nazareth, called Kefer Qana. It is possible that our Evangelist calls it “Cana in Galilee” to distinguish it from the Qana in Lebanon near Tyre. In any case, it was a small village, and the fact that Jesus’ mother is there suggests it was near Nazareth and there may have been some family connections to the bride or bridegroom. A few background points will help in the understanding of this story.
Jewish weddings in Jesus’ era went on for several days, and so it is not a surprise that the catering may have run out of one item or another. It would seem we join the story near the end of the wedding celebrations, long past the point in time when the best wine would have been served, which was at the beginning of the celebration, not near its end. The reason for this, of course, was that people had a more discriminating palette before, rather than after, the wine dulled their sense. Wine in Jesus’ day was defi- nitely alcoholic, involving fermented grape juice, though we cannot be sure of what sort of percentage of alcohol it would have had (ranging from a possible low of 2 percent to a high of 12–13 percent). To be sure, no toast- master at a Jewish wedding would ever have said, “Why did you save the best grape juice until last?” The issue was real wine, and more to the point, wine that was not watered down. The normal practice was to water down the wine the further the celebrations went, to prevent complete inebriation. And so, of course, the best-tasting wine, rather than the watered-down sort, would be served first.
We are told that Jesus’ mother is a wedding guest, but Jesus and some of his disciples were wedding guests as well. Jesus’ mother in this gospel is never named, never called Mary. For the Evangelist her whole importance is in her relationship to Jesus. Here, and in John 19, she is simply identified as the mother of Jesus. It is true that the only reason anybody shows up in these stories in the gospel is because they have come across Jesus’ path at some point, but Jesus’ mother is a special case.
Acting like a good worrying mother, not wanting something to spoil the wedding party, she informs Jesus that they have no more wine. This state- ment, which implies a request—namely, “Do something about it!”—also implies that Mary knew Jesus could do something, something miraculous. Even though this is the first miracle story in this gospel, it implies that there had been other miracles beforehand, miracles known to Mary. The fact that the miracle at the wedding feast is the first sign miracle in this gospel has more to do with the Evangelist’s theological schema. He will present a crescendo of the miraculous beginning with turning water into wine and finishing in John 11 with the raising of a man from death who has been in the grave four days. Jesus’ response to his mother is somewhat shocking—it is abrupt, and almost seems like a rebuke. It literally reads “Woman, what to me and to you? My hour has not yet come.” This brief Greek phrase likely means something like “What’s that got to do with us?” (We are only invited guests, not hosts.) Notice that Jesus distances himself from his mother’s authority, which is probably why he calls her “woman,” which is surprising. In this gospel, Jesus must follow the dictates of his heavenly Father, not his earthly mother. But Jesus then gives a reason for his response—“my hour has not yet come.” The hour referred to is not just any hour, but what we might call prime time. Later in this gospel, it refers to the time for Jesus to fully reveal himself to the world by dying on the cross.
Undaunted, Mary, who apparently will not take no for an answer, even from Jesus, tells the servants—“Do whatever he tells you.” Apparently she does not take his rather brusque response as a definite no.
- What sort of relationship between Jesus and his mother does this story depict?
- Why has the wedding party run out of wine?
- What does Jesus mean by “my hour”?