John 2:1-12
Water Into Wine

Authored by Rev. Takao Tanaka, Kokawa Church Of Christ In Japan

1.  The scripture passage we read aloud today is the narrative known as "The Wedding At Cana."  There are four gospels in the New Testament and The Gospel Of John has a unique way of writing it.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are generally called the synoptic gospels because their versions are quite similar in style and substance.  They say Mark's gospel was written about A.D. 65 and Matthew and Luke were written down later after that by consulting Mark as a reference.  They were recorded as something like biographies of the life of Jesus.

2.  But, John became a collection that would be best described as a collection of sermons rather than calling it a biography.  For example, chapter six has the story of the feeding of the five thousand, but along with that story is the message that says "I am the bread of life."  Chapter nine has the healing story of the man blind from birth.  We go to discover in that event a message that says "I am the light of the world."

3.  When I was young I learned a great deal by reading a book by Oscar Cullman that dealt with The Gospel Of John called "Early Christian Worship (Urchristentum und Gottesdienst)."  Cullman says there are two layers of meaning in John's gospel.  One is a meaning that appears on the surface; the other, he says, is a hidden meaning.  He apprehended them in light of the early church's worship services. 

4.  Well, "The Wedding At Cana" story is a very pleasant tale.  Cana was a mountain village ten kilometers away from Nazareth where Jesus was raised.  We believe his mother Mary had close relatives there because we think only a relative could be the one worrying over wine running out.  Running out of wine in the middle of the wedding would put a chill on the party and bring great embarrassment to the bridegroom.  She would want to avoid such a situation any way possible.  So, Mary went to talk it over with Jesus her eldest son.  It is believed that since her husband Joseph does not appear in the text he was already deceased.  It is believed that since Jesus was approximately thirty years old that Mary had been depending on him.

5.  However, the answer he gave her are words that would be unthinkable for us.  "O woman, what kind of relationship do you have with me?  My time hasn't come yet."  In a literary translation it says "O lady, what connection is there between thee and me?  My hour hath not yet come."  Since everyone depends on their sons for things, wouldn't we be very much surprised and taken aback if we heard said, "Lady, what business do you have with me?"  We might just be worried, "Has our son has gone crazy?"

6.  His mother Mary was refused.  But, Mary is surprising [to us.]  She was not taken aback herself but ordered the servants and said, "If he tells you anything, please do according to what he tells you."  There is the extraordinary faith of Mary.  In spite of what happened, she continues believing and won't quit.

7.  An explanation of the water jug is given in verse six.  "They have in place there six stone water jugs which the Jews use in purifications.  At any rate, they are of two to three metretes capacity."

8.  The "metretes" unit of measurement is not clear to us.  In a colloquial translation of the Bible it has "a stone water jug which contains four to five units of the Japanese "to" [where one "to" equals 18 liters or 4.8 gallons so that one stone jug equaled about one hundred liters or around twenty-five gallons of water,] but I suppose it is difficult for a young person to understand this as no more than a foreign word.  For a long time the saying "One sack of rice made four 'to'" was one of our units of measurement.  One "to" was ten "sho" [where one "sho" equaled 1.8 liters or .48 of a gallon.]  Japanese rice wine, sake, comes in a 1.8 liter bottle.  In terms of say a bottle of soy sauce it has a two liter capacity.  Its size is only a little more than a 1.8 liter bottle.  Some books have written in them that one metretes is forty liters.  That corresponds to twice the size of a plastic container of petroleum at a twenty liter capacity [or at twice the size of a five gallon can of gasoline].  The main thing here is we can get an idea of its size.

9.  Way back when in my parents' home there used to be a ceramic jar for cooking food.  We children used to have the chore of drawing water from the well and filling up that jar with water when we came home from school.  As children we thought in our hearts that that water jug was [pretty] big.  They had six of those water jugs.  That water was used by the Jews for religious purification.

10.  Palestine was an arid land.  Because they walked around wearing sandal type shoes, when they went into a home, it was the usual custom to wash one's feet.  For example, in The Gospel Of Luke, chapter seven and verse forty-four, Jesus said to Simon, "Don't you see this person?  When I went into your home you did not give me water to wash my feet, but this person has soaked my feet with [her] tears and wiped them with [her] hair."

11.  They used them again at meal times to wash their hands.  They say that the Jews back then did not use chopsticks or forks but ate with their hands.  Also, it appears that each time a course of food was changed they had washed their hands.  Such purification by water was not stipulated by Old Testament law, but it is thought that the basis for it was in a book from [Old Testament] law, Leviticus 19:2, which says "You are to be a holy people.  I, the Lord your God, am holy."

12.  At Mount Sinai God expressed his command to Moses, "You will be a kingdom of priests unto me, a holy nation."  In order to preserve their holiness various traditions came into being.  One of them was hand washing.

13.  Please look from verse eight to verse ten.  The water changed into wine.  On top of that, it was the highest grade of wine.  The wedding sponsor was shocked.  The story does not end all hunky dory.  As a tale about merely [his] feeling sorry for the bridegroom and helping him by turning water into wine, we would think the miracle was accomplished without much objection.  But, there are several things in this narrative we don't get but get hung up on.

14.  One of the things [hard to understand] is when Jesus said in verse four "O woman, what kind of relationship do you have with me?"  We don't know what the Jews at that time felt when he called his mother by "o woman."  In The Gospel Of John, 19:26, it says "Jesus saw his mother and the beloved disciple near her and said to his mother 'O woman.  Please look [at John the beloved disciple].  [He] is your child.'"  This was spoken as a message in which [Jesus] entrusted his mother Mary over to the disciple John.  But still, no matter how it may have been back then, in the hearing of us modern folks it is only heard as "[cold] formality."  We don't have a real clue to what kind of address Jesus routinely used with his mother Mary, but perhaps I suppose he was calling out to her the same way other children did.  I suppose there were no harsh feelings or incompatibility in it.

15.  Instead, all the more, we have here something special.  Because here he is not acting as Jesus the child of Mary, he is acting as Jesus the Christ.  He was not speaking as Jesus the relative but he was issuing words as Christ the son of God.  This is expressed by the words "My time has not yet come," and in verse eleven "The disciples believed Jesus."

16.  What kind of time might the time of Jesus be?  "My time has not yet come," (7:6, 8, 30).  "The time came for the son of man to receive glory," (12:23).  "He perceived that his time came to transfer from this world to his Father," (13:1).  "O Father, the time has come," (17:1).

17.  Jesus' time was the time Jesus was to bear the sin of humanity and be crucified.  This is what Jesus meant when he said I am not doing anything unrelated to the business and work of the Christ, [i.e. "What relationship do you have with me?"]

18.  Put another way, Jesus meant he was not going to do anything [just] because his mother Mary needed it.  Humanly speaking, this is a human way of saying, "Since you turned the water into wine, you should have done it willingly after all."

19.  Speaking from an educational [or child rearing] standpoint they say it's not good to grant a child's request saying "It's only this once" after refusing a child's demands.  They say you shouldn't give in to them and "a no means no."  On this point I am not very qualified.

20.  Why did Jesus grant Mary's request?  No, he did not grant her request.  He clearly refused it.

21.  But when Jesus turned the water to wine, it was not for Mary's needs, but he performed the work as the Christ in order for the glory of God to be revealed.

22.  Well, then, what was "the work?"  This may sound somewhat enigmatic but it was a "changing of the Jews' water of purification into wine."   [The text shows] the Jews were fervent about purifying themselves and that Jesus was criticized often by the Jews over this.

23.  For example, chapter fifteen and verse two in The Gospel Of Matthew [says,] "Why are your disciples breaking the old time traditions of men?  They do not wash their hands before a meal."

24.  I suppose the household of the bridegroom was not wealthy.  The house kept wine only not enough and would run out.  But, the water of purification, the fact of there having been six stone water jugs of it there, tells the story of how much respect they had for purification.  The whole family feared defilement.  The Japanese are very much alike with the Jews on this regard.  We have purification customs.  When a child is born we make a visit to the shrine and have them purify us. We have them purify us on the customary death date anniversaries and every wedding.

25.  When we attend a funeral service a letter of thanks for attending the funeral is delivered with "salt of purification" applied.  I suppose the Jews were thinking they purified themselves through the waters of purification.  However, when Jesus change their water into wine, he showed that "humanity was no longer to be 'purified' by this water."

26.  As the chosen people of Israel, as the holy people of God, the Jews washed their hands, feet, and body in order to keep pure.  However, they cannot wash with water the crucial parts of the heart and soul.  "You are to be a holy people" is not a matter of clean hands and feet, but is about the purity of one's heart and the purity of one's soul.  Even Jesus said, "What goes into a person does not defile him, but what comes out of his mouth defiles him," (Matthew 15:11).  "But, since what comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, this very thing defiles a person," (Ibid., 15:18).

27.  Water cannot cleanse the heart and the soul of a person.  What does wine signify?  When we speak of wine in the Christian church, it is associated conceptually with the wine used in the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.  It signifies the blood the Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross for the redemption of humanity's sin.  The sin or defilement of humanity cannot be cleansed unless one depends on the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

28.  When the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world he repudiated purifications based on the superstitious traditions of humanity and he came to save humanity from its sin and to give his perfect blood for purification.  This is the wine which we receive along with the message, "This is my blood, which is shed for many people, and is the blood of the covenant."

29.  Mary had made a request for a favor out of a human based feeling and concern.  She spoke from a concern that no shame would be brought to the bridegroom and it was out of a beautiful human type love for another.  But for all that, the work of Jesus was not to serve human desires or spare people embarrassment.  The work of Jesus was for the execution of God's will and for God's glory.  Furthermore, even if it is filled with good will and overflowing with love, [the desire of] humanity has nothing in common with God's will, not even a hair's breadth.  The requests and favors asked by human beings are steeped in sin and are defiled being produced out of sin.  The will of God's heart is one hundred per cent holy and righteous.

30.  For example, in First Corinthians 13:2,3, it says, "Even if I have the gift to prophesy and am an expert on all mysteries and all knowledge, even if I have faith so perfect to move a mountain, unless I have love, I am equal to nothing.  Even if I use up all my property for the poor and even if I honorably deliver my body to death, unless I have love, there is no profit for me," but if we replace and read the word "love" with "unless I have the love of God" it becomes distinctly clear.  Also, to put it another way, it becomes distinctly clear if we exchange some words and read "if I have [only] a human side."

31.  His mother Mary had a human idea and had a human need.  The Lord Jesus Christ came from the will of God.

32.  Our prayers, our hopes, and our thoughts, and if you think about it, even our worship are human and are sinful.  Even though they may appear fine in the eyes of human beings and even if it looks like the will of God, it isn't really but is lowdown, impoverished, and dirty.

33.  Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ rejects such [spiritual] poverty, but that's not all.  He changes the water into wine for us.  Through his own blood shed on the cross he redeems, purifies, and re-builds us for the work of God.  This is the miracle here.

34.  Our worship life and prayers looked upon by a human eye have a wonderful looking facade.  But, looked upon from God's eyes, they are full of shameful, sorrowful sin and have no portability into God's presence.  However, the Lord Jesus Christ does not leave [our human efforts] to themselves.  He uses them for his work by cleansing them with the blood of the cross.  He makes water into wine for us.  How blessed this is!

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