Water into Wine
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A Scriptural Meditation: John 2:1-11
At that time, a marriage took place at Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now Jesus too was invited to the marriage, and also His disciples. And the wine having run short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, What would you have me do, woman? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the attendants, Do whatever He tells you. Now six stone water-jars were placed there, after the Jewish manner of purification, each holding two or three measures. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them to the brim. And Jesus said to them, Draw out now, and take to the chief steward. And they took it to him. Now when the chief steward had tasted the water after it had become wine, not knowing whence it was - though the attendants who had drawn the water knew, - the chief steward called the bridegroom, and said to him, Every man at first sets forth the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then that which is poorer. But you have kept the good wine until now. This first of His signs Jesus worked at Cana of Galilee; and He manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
At the wedding feast of Cana we see Christ transform water into wine. I suppose it is natural for us to think of transformation in terms of opposites. In children’s stories, we see the frog with its green warts turned into the handsome prince. In novels we see the benevolent Dr. Jekyll transformed into the vicious Mr. Hyde, foaming at the mouth. But such transformations are not simply part of fairytales and fantasies. God does take mean, ugly lives and transforms them by His sanctifying grace. Sinners can become saints. But there is another type of transformation that is shown to us at Cana. At Cana, the object of transformation is something that is already good, wine, being transformed into something even better.
The six stone jars were filled with 120 gallons of water. The water was good, but Christ wanted to elevate it to something better. That Christ performs His first public miracle at a wedding feast signifies that Our Lord meant to teach us something very important about marriage. The human bond of marriage, “the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood” (Nuptial Blessing), was very good, but, at Cana’s wedding feast, Our Lord made it better by transforming marriage into a sacrament.
Consider for a moment the Law of Moses and the Jewish people. The jugs that Jesus had filled with water were the water jugs used for Jewish ritual purification and washing. They were there so that the wedding guests could comply with Jewish law. Jesus takes that ritual water and turns it into something that would not satisfy the Mosaic law. Washing your hands in wine simply would not suffice. In this, Jesus is making a statement about the Law of Moses. The Law, which is lifegiving, necessary, good, and pure, Jesus came to fulfill in absolute perfection. But He also transformed the Law by establishing a New Covenant built on the love of the Cross. Jesus came to transform the Law into something that was not just necessary, but joyful. It was not that the Law was ugly or evil or impure. The Law was good, but Christ perfected the Law by transforming the Law through grace.
Water is clean and smooth, but it is tasteless (unless it comes out of the Chicago River). Wine, on the other hand, has a distinct texture; it has body and taste. St. John tells us the wine Christ made was the best wine and it warmed the wedding guests with joy. From this we learn that Jesus came to take the wholesome duty of the Law and make it glad with joy and perfected by charity. And that message that Jesus gave to the Jews at Cana he also gives to us. It is not God’s desire that we live our lives only out of a sense of duty and resignation. It is good that we obey the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, but there is more to life with Christ than obeying laws. Obedience must be perfected by joyful love.
Our Lord told us, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Abundant life, joyous life, is life lived in freedom and gladness. This does not mean God promises us material wealth. Nor does it mean we are promised a life free from pain and suffering. Furthermore, it does not mean you will never be asked to do another task that is troublesome to you. But it does mean, that, as Christians, Jesus wants to touch our lives and transform the tasteless water of our sufferings and trials and transform them into the best wine. The meaning of this symbol—the water and wine—finds its expression in Holy Mass. During the Offertory, by adding a little water to the wine, the priest prays:
O God, Who in creating man didst exalt his nature very wonderfully and yet more wonderfully didst establish it anew: by the mystery signified in the mingling of this water and wine, grant us to have part in the Godhead of Him Who hath vouchsafed to share our manhood, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God; world without end. Amen.