John 2:1–11 (NRSV)
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
What time is it?
It seems like it should be an easy enough question to answer. All we have to do is look at the clock to see that it’s __:__ [your present time, online reader, will of course depend upon when you read this sermon!]. Of course, you could throw a wrench in that question if you have to consider the time in a particular time zone or in a place that doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time.
But when we talk about the time, sometimes we mean something less precise. Like when we say that it’s “time for the Super Bowl” (or more precisely, it’s time for the Patriots to lose!).
Likewise, if you’re a fan of using groundhogs as a weather forecasting tool, you might say that “it’s time for winter to be over,” but the groundhog says 6 more weeks of winter.
Others of you will combine these two types of time keeping to say that “we better get out of here by 11:30, so it’s really time for this sermon to be over.”
Or maybe, if you’re a doomsday prepper, you’ll use a different kind of clock to talk about the near certainty that something is about to go terribly wrong. You’ll check the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and notice that for only the second time since the clock was developed in 1947, it is only “2 minutes to midnight.”
In any case, we’re not alone in having multiple ways to talk about time. People in the days of Jesus actually had two different words for time. The first one, which you will probably recognize from words like “chronological” and “synchronously” is chronos. This word refers to the kind of sequential time that we might record on a clock, stopwatch, or timeline. The second word, which is probably new to you, is kairos. Kairos refers to the idea of an opportune time or a proper time for an action. For instance, we might talk about now being the right time to search for a new job or the right time to retire.
Or, like the teacher of Ecclesiastes, we might say that there is a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to dance; a time for war, and a time for peace.” That’s kairos time.
So what time is it?
That’s the core of the dispute between Jesus and his mother in John 2, as they gathered with their community to celebrate the wedding of an unnamed couple from Cana of Galilee.
In the Gospel of John, this the first story he tells about Jesus, after John’s proclamation about him and the call of his first disciples. We’ve heard the testimony of John, Andrew, Peter, and Nathaniel: this is the Son of God, the anointed, the chosen Messiah. But we don’t yet have any evidence to believe it ourselves. It is in this story, the story of a wedding, that we are first given evidence to corroborate the claims of these first followers of Jesus.
Weddings were community affairs in Jesus’s day, and they were one of the most considerable expenses in a person’s life, as they are for many people today. Money and prized animals would be put aside so that everyone they knew could come and celebrate for multiple days at a time. When a wedding was being celebrated, everyone functioned on “wedding time,” partying until the food and wine had run out. Jesus, his disciples, and his mother had all been invited to celebrate a wedding, a sign of God’s steadfast love, with wine, one of God’s good gifts.
The problem with this particular wedding was that the wine had run out prematurely.
Now, to be clear, this was wine and not sparkling grape juice. As you’re probably aware, wine was a common drink in the ancient world, first and foremost because alcohol was the only means they had to treat and purify water. They didn’t have Pur water filters and water treatment plants. The wine that they consumed was often diluted with water so that it lasted longer, and so that its effects took longer to take hold. But we should not be fooled into thinking that these wedding guests were only consuming wine because it was what was safe to drink. No, they were drinking wine because it was a party. And nothing could kill a party faster than running out of wine.
We’re not given a specific reason that the wine ran out early. Perhaps more people had attended than the hosts had planned for. Maybe each of them drank more than their fair share. But it’s entirely possible that they ran out of wine because they had purchased all they could afford. Not only would the guests go home upset because the party was cut short, but they would know that this family was poor.
We can imagine the panic in Mary’s eyes as she came to Jesus and announced “They have no wine.” (It was probably a bit like Jack Sparrow’s eyes when he asked Elizabeth in Pirates of the Caribbean, “But why is the rum gone?”)
Jesus, slightly perturbed at being bothered by such an interruption, knew what his mother was asking. And he was having none of it.
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” Mother, it’s not my fault that they ran out of wine. Perhaps they should have planned better! This isn’t our fish to fry. “My hour has not yet come.”
I imagine that Mary’s eyes spoke volumes as she told the servants, “do whatever he tells you” and walked away.
Mary and Jesus were having an argument about kairos, about the opportune time, and Mary had won by virtue of her motherly authority. I suppose that tells us even God has to listen to his earthly mother.
Now, Jesus is still sure that the time is not yet right, but he solves the wedding couple’s problem anyway. Seeing the six stone water jars set out for the Jewish purification rites, each which could hold tens of gallons of water, he told the servants to fill them to the brim.
Jesus doesn’t even speak any words of this water to make it wine. He isn’t involved at all, except to oversee the servants and give them directions. But as soon as a portion of the water was drawn out and given to the head waiter, it had become the most delicious wine. It must have had the nuanced flavor of a BC vintage.
The waiter was pleasantly confused. He knew that this family couldn’t have afforded to supply quality wine throughout the festivities, and they wouldn’t need to. The good stuff would have been brought out first, followed by the boxed wine from the discount store. No one would have tasted the difference at that point. But this family, having already supplied enough wine to get the party going, was now bringing out the good stuff. They had brought out the bottles that must have been saved for a time such as this.
Only Jesus, his mother, his disciples, and the family who could have never afforded such an extravagance knew any better.
Even in chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is sure that “[his] time has not yet fully come.” But the reader of this wedding story is supposed to know better. We’re supposed to put the pieces together. The anticipated time may not have fully arrived yet, but this was the time for birth and not death, laughter and not weeping, dancing and not mourning, love and not hate.
The kairos, the time that had been appointed long ago had finally come for God’s people. We only need ask, “what time is it?”
Anyone who had grown up hearing the words of Isaiah in synagogue school would know the answer. Isaiah had spoken of a day when the Lord would gather all peoples on his mountain and set out a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. No expense would be spared. The vintage wine would be poured out endlessly.
A time with such extravagant celebration would mean that the shroud over humanity would be destroyed. Yes, death would be swallowed up forever. Tears would be wiped away. Disgrace, yes even of a family too poor to supply wine for their daughter’s wedding, would be taken away.
This wedding was the beginning of the day when it would be said that “This is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The disciples could read the sign. What time was it? It was the time of God’s salvation for the people of God. It was the time of rejoicing and dancing. It was the time to celebrate the end of death with food filled with marrow and well-aged wines strained clear.
“Yes, okay, that’s all well and good,” you might say. “But what time is it now?”
The joyous season of Christmas is long over. Spring, according to the groundhog, is at least 6 weeks away. We’re swamped with work, school, and troubles for which none of us really have time.
Yet, it is the time when we must remember more than ever, the appointed time has come. The kairos of salvation has arrived.
Epiphany, this season at the beginning of the year when we celebrate Christ’s appearance to the world, is the time, as Miroslav Volf suggested in a recent essay, for joy!
This miraculous story—of water turned into wine, lack turned into plenty, panic turned into joy—is the story of our time.
In this season when most of us are just trying to get by, trudging through our tasks and problems until we can get to that light at the end of the tunnel, this story reminds us that this is the time for joyous celebration.
Jesus’s first miracle doesn’t have any utilitarian rationale. It didn’t have any impact on the ability of those present to be more productive members of society. In fact, it ensured that they would stay worthless to the economy of Galilee for at least another few days.
The only thing this miracle did, and the only thing it needed to do, was to prolong the rejoicing of some unnamed guests at a wedding. The only thing Jesus accomplished, was to testify to the God who has provided us with every good gift in creation and to offer hospitality to people who needed a reason to celebrate.
Sure, Christ brought light into a world of darkness, conquered the powers of sin and death, gave sight to the blind, resurrected the dead, and brought God’s just rule to a world run by an unrighteous aristocracy.
But it all started with a gratuitous supply of wine for guests at a party who had already been filled to the brim. This was the time. This was the beginning of the kingdom of God.
May we, enlivened by Christ’s exorbitant and miraculous supply of good things, spend this Sabbath, this day of rest, in joyous celebration of God’s love for us. And may we, with tongues loosened by the wine we share at Christ’s table, tell others that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good! Hallelujah! Amen.
Continue Your Journey Throughout the Week
Question for Reflection
The Teacher says “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). How did Jesus know when his time had arrived? Is it the time in my life now to mourn or to dance, to keep silent or to speak? How can I witness to Christ’s love in all these seasons of life, especially the one I find myself in today?
When Jesus went to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, he was sure that the time for his kingdom had not yet come. Yet, at his mother’s leading, he turned the water into wine and witnessed to the power and joy of your kingdom. Surprise us, O Lord, that we might find ourselves feasting in celebration this day. Amen.