The Better Wine

Mary, called in the gospel "the mother of Jesus," appears twice in the gospel of John. At the beginning and at the end. And in both cases thirst and wine are involved.

The first story is the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine because the wedding hosts had run out:
John 2.1-10
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and 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 and 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.”
Jesus initially resists the request saying that his "time has not yet come." What time is that exactly? The master of the banquet also makes the observation that the "cheaper" wine comes early and the better wine comes out later.

That's all very interesting. We are left leaning into the story wondering when Jesus's "hour" will come and the better wine be poured out.

And wine, along with Mary, does appear again later in the story, drawing our attention and forming a connection between the wine of Cana and the blood poured out on the cross:
John 19.25-35
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
Is this the time, "the hour" that Jesus was referring to at Cana? Is this what the miracle of Cana was pointing toward all along, the true miracle of "turning water into wine"? Is the blood of Jesus the "better wine" that comes out at the end of the story, the observation made by the master of the wedding feast at Cana?

Consider the Eucharistic overtones.

Is not the wine enjoyed in the Eucharist the "better wine" of our own wedding banquet?

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9 thoughts on “The Better Wine”

  1. In answer to your 4 final questions: yep (cf. John 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27, 13:1, 16:32, and conclusively 17:1), yep, yep,and yep. Human plonk always runs out (John 2:3), but Calvary '33 is the vintage that just keeps on giving.

  2. You have to love Mary at the wedding of Cana - he objects and she doesn't argue, she just tells the servants to do as she says. How awesome was she?

  3. Thing I have always loved about the wedding at Cana story is that it demonstrates that even Jesus Christ had to do what his mother told him to do.

  4. Great observations from you and R Vogel below. When I was young I was always confused by this intrusion of reality into the "sterile, holy patriarchal" world that SEEMED to exist in scripture. Thankfully, as I became an adult and actually read the Bible, the feminine power started leaping off many of its pages.

    It reminds me of the reality of my own world when my wife will ask me "Are you ready to start that project I want you to do?" When I answer, "I need a little more time to think about how I want to do it", she walks into the utility room and reappears with the tool box. Then I know its time to put on my old jeans.

  5. I wonder how much of these things we miss because we (or at least the C of C heritage) tends to pick apart books and chapters? I know I have a different perspective on Mark when I sat for about 90 minutes and listened to the audio book. Similar for almost all of the letters in the New Testament.

  6. One thing my Church of Christ heritage taught me was to use a concordance. Obviously concordances and word studies alone without context can be avenues to dangerous deductions. Yet This reference cannot but lead one to explore parallels with eucharistic overtones in Mt. 26 and I john 5. May I venture to suggest that for believers the risen Lord not only eats and drinks with his church today but that this communion presages the day when we all in one great banquet feast with the One who's water and blood gushed forth to make us his own in every way.

    Those in my tradition who jump to a premptorial conclusion that John "must be referring to baptism" may have a point, But....there is a lot more going on here. What an intriging instruction in these passages! John's symbolic leadings make his gospel a mystical masterpiece of joy fot those who believe.

  7. Hang on a minute. At Cana Jesus doesn't do what his mother tells him to do; on the contrary, he abruptly says, "You must not tell me what to do!" (John 2:4). That's the GNB translaton of Ti emoi kai soi, which is more literally rendered (going back to the King Jimmy translation) "What have I to do with thee [you]?" In fact, the Greek construction is the same as in Mark 1:24, 5:7 and Matthew 8:29 -- words used by the demons to address Jesus! And in his "Jesus and Beelzebul" pericope (3:20-30), Mark places Jesus' family, presumably including his mum, right beside the scribes in opposition (if less strident opposition) to Jesus, even giving them synonymously parallel lines to speak: "He is mad" (family) (3:22) / "He has a demon" (scribes) (3:23). Mary and family want Jesus to come home -- he's beng a very naughty boy and they're understandably very worried about hm -- but Jesus refuses even to speak to them. With the disciples, Jesus is starting a new kinship model which constitutes a radical departure from the conventional extended kinship system. An apologist for "family values" this Jesus is not!

    Yes, you get a more favourably positioned mother of Jesus in John (who, interestingly, never actually calls her Mary), at the cross, though it requires considerable exegetical gymnastics to place her there in the synoptic gospels (while the "disciple whom Jesus loved", whoever that may be, is exclusive to Fourth Evangelist).

    But if you really want formidable, it's to Luke you should look. Mary is there with the 11 remaining disciples and "certain women" forming the earliest Christian community (Luke is the evangelist famous for foregrounding women both in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church) (Acts 1:12-14). And, above all, there is the Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff.), where Mary sings a protest song -- sort of 1st century Joan Baez.

  8. Oh, I do not disagree at all. You are so right about Luke. My favorite gospel. I love the Magnificat. A song of the ages. Seems like I remember someone I saw on a news magazine who had the Magnificat in numerous languages on his wall. I can certainly understand the stirring and the pull it has on someone's heart in that way.

    What I was simply pointing out was in spite of Jesus' protest, Mary had the final say. And like most of us men, Jesus, by his actions, by his love if you please, said, "OK".

  9. As I aside and not so much related to topic here: When I was growing up I was taught that Jesus turned the water into water.

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