John 2: v 1-11 Jesus turns water into Wine

So how is dry January going? Is anyone doing it? My husband and I have settled on a month that is more ‘damp’ than ‘dry’. That means strictly no wine on Monday to Wednesday evenings, getting in the recommended two or three alcohol-free days at the beginning of the week when it’s easier. Our allowance of three bottles of red then has to last till Sunday, regardless of when we give in – often Thursday for him, Friday for me, even if just to have the moral victory. This is, of course, our choice, and generally not because, come Monday evening the wine rack is empty. If Jesus turns up on our doorstep with a nice bottle of Rioja on Tuesday, we would try very hard not to drink it. And not just because it wouldn’t be at room temperature.

We very rarely run out of wine; and if we did it wouldn’t be a disaster. Milk, on the other hand, is far worse. Those of you who have had teenage boys will know what I mean. Keeping enough in is a never-ending battle. One of the highlights of my son’s life was the time when I was collecting tokens off the milk bottles in Waitrose for Emma Bridgwater mugs – 20 tokens for each mug, five tokens on a four pint bottle, no idea how long the special bottles would remain in the shop. We were practically bathing in milk by the time I’d got enough for 2 mugs.

But if the worst should happen, and Will pours the last of the milk on his evening bowl of Weetabix, I know I’ve got various options. We’re quite well served in SS; the village shop, the Texaco garage, even the services over the back of us open 24 hours. Milk, for us, definitely counts as a necessity.

I bring all this up because in John’s Gospel today we come to his account of a wedding in Israel—a wedding in which they ran out of WINE, and wine was definitely a “necessary” in those days. In fact, there was an old saying, “Without wine there is no joy.” And this was especially true when it came to first century Jewish weddings. It was not that people were drunk—because in their culture drunkenness was and still is a great disgrace. Plus, we are told that, back then, people actually drank their wine diluted two parts wine to three parts water so to over-indulge you really had to work at it.

It’s just that a wedding in Jesus’ day was a VERY big deal. The whole town was involved. In fact, in Palestine, the wedding festivities went on for an entire week, rather like the lavish Indian weddings we hear about today. Ceremonies took place late in the evening—after a feast. Then the young couple were conducted to their new home through the streets by torchlight, and with a canopy over their heads. They were taken by as long a route as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well. Then the newlyweds stayed at home and hosted a sort of a seven day party/open house. In those days there was so much poverty and hard work, so little time for fun, that this week of festivity and joy was a real highlight. Everyone looked forward to it—so it was indeed a big deal.

Jesus was attending one of these week-long wedding celebrations. But in the midst of their joy something went wrong. Just three days in, they ran out of wine.

For the hosts to run out of wine was very embarrassing. Hospitality in the east was a sacred duty and for things to literally run dry would have brought terrible shame to the bride and her groom. In fact, the host could have been sued.

But Mary knew what to do. She came to Jesus and told Him what had happened. She went to Him and said, “They have no more wine.”

Some translations make it seem that Jesus was very discourteous to His mother in His reply. Some have Jesus saying, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” How many of you would be insulted if your son called you “woman?”  “Well, in Jesus’ day, the word “woman” did not carry this kind of disrespectful meaning. Back then “woman” was a term of endearment and respect. it is the same word Jesus used as He hung dying on the cross and looked down and said “WOMAN, behold your son,”. Look at Mary’s response, because it showed that she didn’t appear to feel slighted or disrespected. She replied in a way that said she had confidence in Him because she left the matter in His hands.

After Mary left, Jesus instructed the servants to take six stone water jars and fill them with water—no small task because each jar held 20-30 gallons. It makes William’s 32 pints of milk look paltry.  Verse 6 says these jars of water were used for purifying ceremonies. Specifically, the water was used to cleanse the feet of people as soon as they entered the house. The roads were not paved, just mud or dust. So with no running water, you needed a good supply on hand—especially when you were having a week full of wedding guests coming and going.

Well, in verse 8 Jesus commanded, “Draw some and TAKE IT TO THE MASTER of the banquet.” This was the “head waiter”— the man who was responsible for the seating of the guests and the correct running of the feast.  When he tasted it he said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink—and they won’t know the difference, but you have saved the best till now…” …meaning Jesus turned those 180 gallons of water into the best wine. Maybe he missed the gift list, but what a wedding present!

Now, I am sure we are all familiar with this Bible passage, and we’re certainly all familiar with weddings, especially ones where there is one bottle of red and one of white on each table, and by half-way through the reception people are trading for whichever colour they are running out of. But I don’t think John was telling us of the miracle just to compare wedding horror stories.

John’s gospel contains what are sometimes called the Seven Signs of Jesus’ miraculous power - feeding the 5,000, walking on water, various healings. In this famous passage, John is telling us that the purpose of Jesus’ first recorded miracle was to reveal his glory to the world. Turning the water into wine was a community miracle, and helped his disciples put their faith in him. Jesus first revealed his glory to the world, not by a wonderful healing, not with a stunning sermon, but by going round the back of the bar at a wedding and boosting the stocks of best wine.

You might wonder why Jesus would be at a wedding in the first place. Wouldn't he be too busy being holy, playing God somewhere else, to mix with ordinary people at a social event? 

We can assume that Jesus was at the wedding because he was invited. A single young man is just the sort of person you'd expect to be invited to a wedding, and you can bet, in the community he belonged to, there would be a young bridesmaid or friend of the bride who would be watching him closely, hoping he might notice her. Now, we also know from our own experience that weddings aren't all joy. If we were able to see the wedding party through Jesus' eyes then we might know that that pretty bridesmaid has recently broken up with her boyfriend and is hurting deeply; the father buying drinks for everyone might be disguising his financial problems by getting himself further into debt. Jesus knew, just as we do, that weddings bring out family tensions as much as family blessings; Jesus knew, just as we do, that for all the joy of weddings they can also bring out regrets, loneliness and pain.

And Jesus wanted to be there at that wedding, fully aware of all those things. So that he could share in those meaningful little conversations over a few drinks where people pay attention to each other for once, and are raw and real about themselves. So that he could comfort a sad person, kiss a worried person, dance with a lonely person. Spread his love around. Isn't that precisely why he came down to earth from heaven in the first place? Jesus learned how to be holy precisely by mixing with ordinary people - and he taught ordinary people how to be holy by socialising with them. Being, as Mark taught us last week, holy and divine at the same time.

I think one reason the Holy Spirit prompted John to include this story first is so that everyone can know that the spirituality Jesus taught was not drab and lifeless. It was real ‘good news Christianity’. He wanted to make sure we know that Jesus believed in marriage. He believed in festivity. He enjoyed a good party.

You know that moment at a wedding reception when all the tension of preparing and decorating and planning is finally over. All the work and worry of the wedding is past. No one got their vows wrong or tripped up while walking down the aisle. There is no more china to choose, or invitations to write —no more dilemma of who to sit next to Great Aunt Myrtle. When everyone relaxes and starts to actually enjoy the day.

I would say that this moment usually happens when the dancing starts - not me. because I’m not a dancer. I just sit back and watch. But you know what? I think JESUS would do more than watch! I think He would be out there on the floor rejoicing with the bride and groom, dancing with the best of them! He’d enjoy the food and the fellowship—the “golden joy” of special wedding moments like that. The Bible tells us that Jesus was anything but a killjoy. He was on the other extreme! Jesus was—and is—pro joy!

Jesus was a lover of joy and if we truly follow Him—imitate Him—we will be the same. This story from John 2 shows that Jesus was a person Who loved JOY—and if we really are His disciples—if we really do pattern our lives after His, then we will also! Jesus brings joy and we see this by the fact that He did His first miracle in a joyful setting.

Jesus chose to reveal his glory, not to a temple-full of pompous priests or pent-up puritans, but to a party. He chose to offer everyone, whoever they were and whatever they were up to, the same sort of new life as he'd injected into that party with that new wine. The disciples saw his glory - and believed. And that was just the beginning - the glory of Jesus is still coming to light in the world today - you might have seen it in your own life or someone else’s.

The toastmaster said, "You have kept the good wine until now". This story helps us see that in our lives, the life of the community or the world, Jesus can replace the 'inferior wine' with 'good wine'. In the days and years ahead, through Jesus, the hurting bridesmaid can be healed, the debt-ridden father can find financial stability, the regretful can overcome their sadness, the lost and the lonely can find identity in community. Jesus didn't just produce any old wine - Jesus' wine was the very best quality, sending the toastmaster into confusion, making the drinkers feel this was quite some ‘do’ they were at; they were involved in something special here.

And Jesus didn't spend any time carefully calculating how much wine was needed to keep the party going to a certain time. No: he got all the empty containers they could find and filled them right up to the brim. Imagine him saying, “That should do it”, with a smile, to the gobsmacked bar staff.

This was more than enough. This wasn't just enough wine. This was scandalously generous best Jesus wine. Which is precisely what He intended it to be. Because after all, isn't the whole thing about God coming to earth scandalously generous? A final point about this story is that it invites us to see how Jesus needs us to help share his glory with others. He didn't do the miracle on his own. He needed his mother to prompt him to do it in the first place. (Don’t boys always need their Mum behind them?!) He needed the workers to prepare it all for him. And at the end he had disciples putting their faith in him so that his glorious, generous work of love could carry on, spread and grow, through them.

We are their successors. And that's why Jesus gives us the Spirit. So we can help share his extravagant glory with others. Jesus gave everyone at that wedding something good. In Corinthians 12 Paul says that everyone who comes to Jesus will be given something good, through the Spirit, to help them serve God in their lives, day by day. Spiritual gifts, of all varieties, offered freely by Jesus to us.

We know God loves a wedding. Because he loves people, loves to spread joy. Think of the deep love of a couple on their wedding day. That's precisely the sort of love God longs to share with us. Hugh’s reading ended:

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

Those words from Isaiah become ours when we open ourselves to God's embrace.

So, we have learned that Jesus can breathe joy into our lives just as he did at this wedding, and that he wants and needs us to continue his work here on earth. We have learned that he can replace the “bad wine” in our lives with “the good”, and that if we allow him to, he will be more generous with that “best wine” than we can possibly need. So I want us to consider a very important question: Dry January, or no, Where should WE go when OUR “wine” runs out?