Week One: Day Two – Saving The Best for Last
John 2:6–10 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
Understanding the Word. Recent archaeological work in and around Cana has unearthed numerous mikvaoth—ritual purification pools where Jews would go to remove ceremonial uncleanness. The six stone water jars in our story were for holding just such purification water for ceremonial cleansing. The picture of Jews in this region is that they were often devout, and particular about keeping the laws regarding clean and unclean. This family for whom the wedding is held was certainly a Torah-observant family. We are told that each stone jar (stone because according to Jewish thinking it could not become unclean or polluted) could hold twenty to thirty gallons! And Jesus was about to turn it all to wine! It may well be this story that got Jesus the reputation that he was “a drunkard” as well as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Whatever else you say about Jesus, he seems to have spent more time during the ministry feasting than fasting, and in this regard he stood apart from the praxis of his cousin John the Baptizer. The image of Jesus here is not of a killjoy, more nearly the life of the party, or at least the one who gives life to the party.
Notice that the only ones in the story who know a miracle has happened are Jesus, his mother, the disciples, and the servants involved in filling the jars with water and then dipping the new wine out to take to the toast- master. Despite the fact that the miracles in this gospel are stupendous, the Evangelist does not suggest that Jesus used miracles to wow people into the kingdom of God. He does reveal some of his glory to a select few in this story, but he does not make a big deal of the miracle or even make a pronouncement explaining it and taking credit. The impression all four Gospels give is that Jesus’ main ministry was preaching and teaching, and he set out to various places for that purpose. But where a need arose, as was at this wedding, he was prepared to stay to heal or help. This is presumably because Jesus knew that miracles were, at best, temporary solutions or cures, whereas the acceptance of the gospel message was the key to having everlasting life.
Nothing happens in these Johannine stories by accident, and the climax where we hear “but you have saved the best till now” is a double entendre—it refers not only to the best wine served last at this wedding party, but it likely also reminds that God, after a long line of prophets, priests, and kings, has finally sent his Son to rescue the world. What he brings is the new wine of the gospel, the new wine of salvation, which is truly the best wine of all. And note that there is more than enough of it for all as well. More to the point, Jesus replaces the old, lifeless ceremonial water, which could do no more than cleanse the outside of a person, with the new wine of the gospel, which can make the heart glad.
- Why doesn’t Jesus make more of a public display and explanation of this miracle?
- What does Jesus’ turning of water into actual wine tell you about him? Was he an ascetic like his cousin John?
- Why is the toastmaster so surprised at the outcome of Jesus’ action?