The transformation of water into wine

274 the transformation of water into wineThe Gospel of John tells an interesting story, which occurred at about the beginning of Jesus' ministry on earth: He went to a wedding, where he turned water into wine. This story is unusual in some respects: what happens is a bit of a miracle, more like a magic trick than a messianic work. Although it prevented a somewhat embarrassing situation, it was not so directly opposed to human suffering as the healings made by Jesus. It was a private miracle that happened without the knowledge of the beneficiary - nevertheless it was a sign that revealed the glory of Jesus (Joh 2,11).

The literary function of this story is a bit puzzling. John knew of much more miracles of Jesus to report than he could have ever considered in his writings, yet he chose just this for the beginning of his gospel. How is John's purpose to convince us that Jesus is the Christ (Joh 20,30-31)? How does it show that he is the Messiah and not a magician (as the Jewish Talmud later claimed)?

The wedding to Kana

Let us now turn to a closer look at history. It begins with a wedding in Kana, a small village in Galilee. The place does not seem to matter so much, but rather the fact that it was a wedding. Jesus did his first sign as Messiah on the occasion of a wedding celebration.

Weddings were the biggest and most important festivals of the Jews - the week-long celebrations signaled the social status of the new family within the community. Weddings were such feasts of celebration that metaphorically speaking of the wedding banquet was often used to describe the blessings of the messianic age. Jesus himself used this image to describe God's kingdom in some of his parables.

He often performed miracles in the worldly life in order to clarify spiritual truths. So he healed people to show that he has the power of forgiveness of sins. He cursed a fig tree as a sign of the impending ordeal that was to haunt the temple. He healed on the Sabbath to express his primacy over this holiday. He resurrected the dead to show that he is the resurrection and the life. He fed thousands to underline that he is the bread of life. In the miracle we have been looking at, he has given blessed gifts to a wedding party in abundance, to show that he is the one who will provide for the feast of the Messiah in the kingdom of God.

The wine had gone out, and Mary informed Jesus, to which she replied: ... What have I to do with you? (V. 4, Zurich Bible). Or in other words, what do I have to do with it? My hour has not come yet. And even if it was not time yet, Jesus acted. John points out here that Jesus is somewhat ahead of his time in his work. The banquet of the Messiah had not come yet, and yet Jesus was acting. The age of the Messiah had begun long before it was to begin in its perfection. Mary expected that Jesus did something; for she instructed the servants to do whatever he told them. Whether she was thinking of a miracle or a short detour to the nearest wine market, we do not know.

Ritual wastes serving water turns into wine

It was the case that there were six stone water tanks nearby, but different from the usual water jugs. John tells us that these were the containers used by the Jews for ritual ablutions. (For their cleaning practices, they preferred water from stone containers instead of the otherwise used ceramic vessels.) Each contained more than 80 liters of water - far too much to lift and pour. In any case, for ritual ablutions, a huge amount of water. This wedding to Kana must have been committed in a really big way!

This part of the story seems to be very important - Jesus was about to turn water destined for Jewish washing rituals into wine. This symbolized a change in Judaism, it was even equated with the performance of ritual ablutions. Imagine what would have happened if guests had wanted to wash their hands again - they would have gone to the water containers and found each of them filled with wine! For their rite itself no water would have been available. Thus, the spiritual cleansing through the blood of Jesus replaced the ritual ablutions. Jesus performed these rites and replaced them with something much better - himself. The servants filled the bins up to the top, as John tells us in verse 7. How fitting; Jesus, too, fully lived up to the rites, rendering them obsolete. In the age of Messiah there is no room for ritual ablutions. The servants then drew some wine and carried it to the food master, who then said to the bridegroom: "Everyone gives first the good wine and, when they get drunk, the lesser one; but you have kept the good wine until now (v. 10).

Why do you think John recorded these words? As advice for future banquets? Or just to show that Jesus makes good wine? No, I mean because of their symbolic meaning. The Jews resembled people who had already given wine too long (performing their ritual ablutions) to realize that something better had happened. The words of Mary: They have no more wine (v. 3) symbolize nothing else than that the rites of the Jews had no spiritual meaning. Jesus brought something new and better.

The temple cleaning

In the following, John tells us how Jesus drove the traders out of the forecourt of the temple to deepen this theme. Bible commentators paged over the question of whether or not this temple cleansing is the same as the other Gospels attribute to the end of Jesus' ministry on earth, or if there was another at the beginning. However that may be, at this point John tells of it because of the meaning that is symbolically behind it.

And again John puts the story in the context of Judaism: ... the passover of the Jews was near (v. 13). And Jesus found in the temple people who sold animals and exchanged money there - animals offered for the forgiveness of sins as offerings of the faithful, and money to pay temple taxes. Jesus prepared a simple scourge and chased everyone out.

It's surprising that an individual was able to chase away all traders. (Where is the temple police, if you need them?) I suppose the traders knew that they did not belong here and that many of the ordinary people did not want them here either - Jesus only put into action what people anyway already felt, and the dealers knew that they were outnumbered. Josephus describes other attempts by Jewish religious leaders to change temple customs; In such cases, such a cry was raised among the people that the efforts were stopped. Jesus did not object to people selling animals for sacrificial purposes or changing money for temple sacrifices. He did not say anything about the required change fees. What he denounced was simply the chosen place: they were transforming the house of God into a warehouse (V. 16). By faith, they had made a profitable business.

So the Jewish leaders did not arrest Jesus - they knew the people were good at what he had done - but they asked him what he was entitled to do (v. 18). But Jesus did not explain to them why the temple was not the place for such activity, but turned to a completely new aspect: break off this temple and in three days I will have it resurrected (v. 19 Zurich Bible). Jesus spoke of his own body, which the Jewish faith leaders did not know. No doubt they thought his answer was ridiculous, but they still did not arrest him. Jesus' resurrection shows that he was fully authorized to cleanse the temple, and his words already indicated the imminent destruction of the temple. When the Jewish faith leaders killed Jesus, they also destroyed the temple with it; for the death of Jesus made all previously offered offerings obsolete. On the third day after Jesus rose and built a new temple - his church.

And many people, John tells us, believed in Jesus because they saw his signs. In John 4,54 it is said that it is the second sign; In my opinion, that leaves the conclusion that temple cleaning was reported out of turn because it is an indication of what Christ's work really is. Jesus put an end to both the temple sacrifice and the cleansing rituals - and the Jewish faith leaders also unknowingly helped him by trying to physically destroy him. Within three days, however, everything should be turned from water to wine - dead ritual should become the ultimate belief potion.

by Joseph Tkach


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