John 2: 1-12 – Wedding at Cana


The event at Cana is a special tradition of the Gospel of John. In the Synoptic tradition the temple event is one of the last acts of Jesus’ ministry together with the entry into the city of Jerusalem. Gospel of John has separated both and has kept the entry into the city of Jerusalem at the end of Jesus’ ministry, but has brought the temple event to the very beginning of the ministry. Since this is rather improbable historically, the evangelist of the Gospel of John seems to have a theological purpose in mind.

The first event is taking place in Galilee and the second one is in Judea. These are the two borderlines of Jesus’ mission, from the geographical point of view. So it can summarise the whole mission journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.

What Jesus demands in the first event is “fill up the jars” (Jn 2: 7). This is one of the major scopes of Jesus’ mission. In the second event the demand of Jesus is, “take these things out here” (Jn 2: 16). This is another major concern of Jesus in his ministry. Hence these two demands of Jesus synthesize the ministry of Jesus “in toto”. Thus the evangelist uses the traditions in John 2 with a pragmatic purpose.

The event at Cana must be interpreted on the basis of the following elements: “Third day, wedding, wine, Do whatever he tells you, six stone jars, and keeping the good wine”. These elements are related to the theme of the covenant.

“Wedding” is the symbol of the covenant relationship in the Old Testament. Jesus is here in the place of God and is mediating the establishment of the New Covenant.

“The third day” has its background in Exodus 19. Before the establishment of the Sinai Covenant, God appears to the people on Mount Sinai on the third day after two days of purification. Here, in Jesus God is making his appearance in a definitive way and that also happens on the “third day”.

“Wine” is the symbol of abundance and the messianic era as prophesied by Isaiah 62: 1ff; Joel 2: 18ff; Amos 9: 13 etc. So in Jesus the messianic era has dawned.

“Do whatever he tells you,” the demand of Mary to the servant is an assertion that Jesus is the presence of God. Whatever Jesus commands is the law for the New Covenant community. It is the declaration of the obedience by the new people to the Lord of the Covenant as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Ex 24: 1-8).

So the primary meaning of the narration is that in Jesus the New Covenant is being established. It is the revelation of the divine Sonship of Jesus. The implication is that a response to Jesus by doing whatever he commands we obey God and live up to the fidelity to the Covenant.

The dialogue between Jesus and Mary needs interpretation. Mary presents the situation of the family of Jesus. It is not in the form of a request. She does not exactly say what Jesus has to do. She only states that they have no wine. Jesus replies addressing her “woman”. The evangelist of the Gospel of John has the same address for May by Jesus in John 19: 25-27. There are the only two occasions in which Mary is reported to be present during the mission of Jesus. So it is a purposeful usage from the part of the evangelist to give a particular theological message. Normally in Hebrew family culture one’s mother is not addressed as “woman”. The strangeness in this usage by Jesus, cannot be taken as the basis of lack of respect. Because, it is repeated in the second instance too. Looking at the background, we identify the woman mentioned in the first book of The Bible, in Genesis 3: 15. Here the woman is the mother of the Messiah or the messianic community, in the Christian view, the Church. Then, we have a woman in the last book of The Bible, in Revelation 12: 1ff. This woman too is the symbol of the Church, the messianic community. In both these texts, the Christian interpretation identifies primarily an Ecclesiological significance and gives a Mariological meaning on the secondary level. Taking these texts as the point of departure, we can say that the address “woman” to Mary in the Gospel of John reveals that the individual historical person Mary has here a theological function of representing the messianic community, the Church. She is the type of the Church. If so, she is mediating the realization of the New Covenant. At the foot of the Cross, Mary is standing for the Church, the mother of all believers in Jesus. That is why, by saying, “Do whatever he tells you,” she can voice the obedience of the community of believers to the Covenant God.

In reply Jesus also says, “my hour has not yet come”. The “hour” in the Gospel of John is the hour of passion, death, and resurrection. It is through the Paschal Mystery, the New Covenant will be ratified completely. When Jesus says, “what have you to do with me” it only means that Mary refers to “wine” in the natural sense and Jesus signifies the New Covenant he is mediating with his mission. So Jesus means that “the new covenant implied by the ‘wine’ Mary speaks of, can be really ratified only through his death”. However, when Jesus works the miracles it becomes clear that the ministry of Jesus is already the beginning of the process of ratification.


  1. Have you read THE GENIUS OF JOHN: A composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, by Peter F. Ellis? He has some interesting things to say about the structure of John and why (for example) the temple cleansing is placed where it is in the narrative.

  2. The story of Jesus directing the servants to fill all their containers with water reminds me of the story of Elijah and the widow in 2 Kings 4 where he had her gather all her jars and borrow more from her neighbors and from her last jar of oil she would pour to fill all the containers until she ran out of jars. The oil is a type of the Holy Spirit. In the real now of that time God used it to supply the widow’s need to survive the famine. In application I know there is a famine. A famine for the knowledge of God and the Truth. I am the vessel God wants to fill. He has said just ask and He is delighted to fill me with the Holy Spirit. First I must be convinced I need filling. That is a knowledge that the Holy Spirit gives me. I become desperate to become whole. I pray that God will heal me. I pray that He opens my eyes and breaks my heart over the things that break His heart. I pray that He gives me ears to hear what He is saying. I long to never be the person I once was. In little ways I see signs that I am indeed not that person. I have put aside my agendas, my pursuit of recognition and approval. I cry easily. I am touched deeply. I fear less and I hope more. Each day my jar is growing inside to hold more of God’s oil and new wine.

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