I would like to begin today with a brief oversight of the Gospels if I may be so bold. The Gospel of John was the last of the Gospels to be written in approximately 62-70 AD, when John was living in Ephesus. Scholars tend to order the Gospels as Matthew first, written around 40AD; then Mark sometime around AD 50 and Luke around AD 60 two years before he wrote Acts. We know that Jerusalem and The Temple were destroyed by the Roman army under General Titus, who was the son of the Emperor Vespasian, in AD 70, and from this we can conclude with some confidence that the Gospel of John was written between AD 62 and AD 70, because none of the Gospel writers mention the destruction of Jerusalem, which our Lord Jesus the Christ had predicted, and which at least one of them would surely have mentioned? We have all probably heard people in bible study sessions remark upon the similarities, or lack of, in the four Gospels and wonder why. It would seem that the simplest answer is usually the closest to the right answer and we should always avoid making the gospels complex. As the Gospels were all written one after the other by different authors, then each successive writer will have taken what had already been written into consideration. Plus, each author will have had a different viewpoint and his aim in writing his Gospel would include the desire to fill in any gaps he felt may have been left by the previous writers. Matthew, previously known as Levi the tax collector, was the writer of the first Gospel; he was one of the first twelve disciples and he wrote of our Lord Jesus as the King of the Jews and concentrated on the sayings of the Christ.
Mark, also known as John Mark, and whose father’s house is thought to be where the Last Supper was held, wrote of the Christ as the Son of Man and wrote about the things our Lord Jesus did. Mark tells us of the young man dressed only in a sheet, who was forced to flee naked, possibly because it may have been Mark himself who was that young man. Luke was a gentile and a man of learning, a physician. Luke wrote of the Christ as the Saviour of the world and while he wrote his Gospel partly in the form of a hagiography, which is a biography, a life history, of a saint, as was the fashion at that time, like Matthew he concentrated on the things our Lord Jesus told us. John is, for me, the most important of the Gospels, the key to our understanding the whole Gospel story. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”; the one to whom He entrusted the care of His mother while He hung on nails, dying for us, on the cross. John was one of the inner circle of three disciples, together with his brother James and Simon, called Peter, at the Transfiguration of the Christ recorded in Matthew chapter 17. For these reasons John is for me the most authoritative of the four Gospel writers. John wrote of our Lord as the Son of God and tried to tell us who our Lord Jesus is. It could be said that the first three Gospels, the synoptic Gospels, were about the Human Christ, what He said and what He did. John’s Gospel is about the human and Spiritual Christ; who He truly is. So the four Gospels together tell us about the Christ who is fully human and fully divine; the complete, perfect, unblemished, union of the physical and the spiritual that is God; the Light towards which we all must struggle; the light which the darkness did not, cannot, and never will, withstand.
We have heard from today’s reading from the Gospel of John the story of the first known miracle of The Christ, the turning of water into wine at a wedding in Cana a few miles from Nazareth. It’s not unreasonable to wonder why John tells us about this particular miracle when none of the other Gospels even mention it. Well, there is the possibility that John may have mentioned it simply because the others didn’t; but I don’t think that will be the reason. Firstly, John was there when it happened, none of the other Gospel writers were. Also, John tells us, at the end of his Gospel, that our Lord Jesus performed so many other miracles that “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”. This, being the first miracle John witnessed must surely have left an indelible mark upon his memory.
This was the first recorded miracle performed since Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den 450 years before as recorded in the Book of Daniel Chapter 6. In today’s reading our Lord Jesus has gone to a wedding and some of His disciples, who he has just met three days ago, have gone with Him. This may have been normal for Jewish weddings I have no way of knowing. His Mother is there and obviously in a position of some authority because the servants do as she instructs them. These facts lead me to surmise that this is very possibly the wedding of one of His sisters. Now Jewish weddings were huge events; the engagement lasted a full year and the wedding itself was celebrated for six days; a huge investment economically and socially, so running out of wine was a big deal. It was the responsibility of the groom to ensure the supply of food and wine for a celebration that would last six days; and running out of wine would very probably lead to a few years of leg pulling at the very least for the groom and perhaps even a very real social problem for the wife of ‘the man who ran out of wine’. Women in that time had their own social structure separate from the men but partly dependent upon their husband’s reputation, which must have mattered to the wife and her children. This obviously also mattered to Mary, who goes immediately to her son our lord Jesus, taking it for granted that he will be able to do something. But our Lord Jesus states “this is not my concern; it is not yet my hour’. Mary is focused upon the human problem. Our Lord, however is now entirely focused upon His Mission, but He still takes care of the human concerns of His mother. Now, it’s perfectly natural to focus entirely upon the miracle, because I think it’s safe to assume that miracles do tend to capture the attention, but it occurs to me that it may pay us to widen our gaze a little. Mary says to the servants “whatever He says to you, do it”. Mary knew her son so well. Well enough to ignore his reluctance and well enough to know that, whatever He chose to do, the problem would be solved. Jesus tells the servants to fill six large water jars with water. Now we know from the reading that these are large jars, twenty to thirty gallons each. I feel it should be pointed out that there were no taps or hosepipes in that time. Water had to be drawn from a well; with a bucket; and the bucket could not be too big because it had to be lifted, full of water, out of the well by a child or a woman, because fetching water was children’s or women’s work at that time, as we see in Scripture; Jacob meets Rachel by a well as she fetches water Genesis 29; Moses meets Zipporah his future wife by a well as she fetches water Exodus 2; Jesus meets the Samaritan woman by a well as she fetches water John 4. So it would have taken quite a few trips between the well and the pots to get the job done.
The well would probably have been some way from the house because wells would be used by the whole community and you dig the well where the water is and you can dig down to it through the earth; but you build your house on rock where the foundations will be good but the digging not so good. So obeying our Lord Jesus in this instance would have meant some hard physical labour for the servants who would have had no way of knowing why they were being told to collect water when they needed wine. Nevertheless they obviously obeyed, we don’t know how eagerly or not, but still, they filled each vessel to the brim, no half measures. So why did Jesus ask the servants to fill the pots. He didn’t need their help. We know from other miracles, like the feeding of the five thousand, that He could have just caused the wine to appear in the pots. But our Lord doesn’t perform miracles to show off. This is probably why John calls them signs? God cares for us and wants what is best for us, even if it means hard labour for reasons we can’t see and wouldn’t understand. As it was then so it is now. God wants his servants, that’s you, and sometimes me when everyone else is watching, to take part in the mission; to take our part in the mission. The wine was the blessing but the labour of the servants allowed them to share in the miracle. I wonder how they felt when the master of the feast tasted the wine? It must have been truly wonderful to be not only a witness to this miracle but also a part of it as well. Let us never forget what we are about here. We follow our Lord Jesus for many different reasons but we all hope to share in the reward of everlasting life with God in His heaven. We all hope to sit and eat at His table. But our God loves us without limit and He wants us to not only be there but happy to be there and know that we deserve to be there. We are the servants and Christ is the wine. We do not preach ourselves, we preach our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian, all fall short in one way or another, but we can all carry a bucket of water if we are called to, and remember God will never ask us to do something that is beyond our capability.
Matthew 11:28-30. Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and humble and you will find rest for your souls; for my yoke is wholesome and comfortable and my burden is light and easy to be borne.
I think there is also another aspect we should consider. Transforming the water into wine symbolised our own transformation, which is our first step towards our God. You cannot come to God unless you are changed by the Holy Spirit. Some of us probably remember a time when we felt the shadow of the Holy Spirit brush by us. If you haven’t felt it yet, don’t worry, the Lord does His work in mysterious ways we cannot hope to understand and He will deal with each one of us differently as is best for us. We should remember, the water was changed into wine but the pots remained as they were. So It is with us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 we possess this precious treasure [the divine light of the Gospel] in frail human vessels of earth that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves. When we come to Christ our Spirit changes, not our bodies, our life in Christ is inward not outward. Our physical bodies remain more or less as they are but our Spirit is transformed and it can happen so gradually that we don’t even notice. So, our Lord Jesus the Christ has performed a miracle; His first so far as we can know, but without the work of the servants who obeyed the command, without knowing why, it would have probably been a quite different story. The Christ did not have to involve the servants at all, but He did.
Why? My interpretation is that God wants us to get involved, to pick up our cross even if it is only a bucket of water, and enjoy that moment of triumph and wonder. God wants us to sit at His table happy in the knowledge that we deserve to be there. God involves us because getting involved is good for us. So take up your cross, pick up your bucket, even if you have no idea why the Lord has given you that task. Trust in the Lord. It’s actually quite rewarding, I’m reliably informed. Amen.