“They have no wine.” This is the simple comment of the mother of Jesus at a wedding they were attending. In the story as John tells it becomes much more than a simple observation by the mother of Jesus. (John 2:1-11) It is a revelation of the divine presence expressed in Jesus. At first we might think that this revelation takes place through a wondrous act. Jesus changes water into wine for the wedding feast.
This is reading the story on the surface. We might call it the physical meaning of the action. But for John, and for us, there is a much deeper meaning. The Gospel writer comments that this action was “the first of his signs.”
John relates many such stories in his Gospel. They are stories that reveal who Jesus is, the incarnation of God, present among us. To see this reality in the stories means reading with faith. Faith allows a deeper, spiritual meaning to surface. A sign reveals more than the action itself, wondrous or miraculous as it might be.
Each of John’s stories can be read superficially and it describes an action of Jesus that is remarkable. If we stop there, we will miss the deeper meaning to which the Gospel writer is really leading us with these stories. We are called to read more deeply and see the sign in the story.
At the wedding in Cana, Jesus, his mother and his disciples attended. His mother saw a need, a lack, at the feast – “They have no wine.” It was this need or lack that allowed Jesus to enter the story. It was this entrance in the midst of a need or lack that reveals the meaning of God’s presence with us.
In John’s Gospel we find many such occasions when in the face of a need or lack, the compassionate love of God is revealed. This story is one of them. We see it again when a royal official appealed for Jesus’ help for his sick child. (John 4:48) It appears again when Jesus was asked for help by a blind beggar. (John 9:25) Again it is revealed as Jesus responds to the Martha and Mary who brother Lazarus is dying. (John 11:3)
All of these stories hit us first as wondrous actions. But the fuller, more significant meaning lies deeper. They are signs for us of a loving and compassionate God. This is what the incarnation is really all about. It reveals that God has come among us in a divine-human connection, Jesus the Christ.
John is explicit in expressing this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.... God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
John’s story of a wedding and wine reaches far beyond a social embarrassment and even beyond a wondrous action. The presence of Jesus at the wedding and in John’s other stories are signs. God’s compassionate love is present in all the lacks and needs of our humanity. This is God’s mercy.
Do our personal, life stories reveal our faith in this God of compassion and mercy?