Column: Deciphering the story of the wedding at Cana

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Every wedding that takes place is a wonderful event, a sign of hope for the future — not only for the couple, but for all of humanity. And the presence of Jesus Christ at the wedding will make that sign even clearer for all to see.

Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 2:1-11, shows us how that can happen. While attending a wedding feast in Cana, Jesus changes water into wine.

Significantly, the Gospel refers to this amazing event as a sign. The Gospel of John consistently uses the term “sign” rather than “miracle” in referring to Jesus’ works of power. There is a reason for that. John’s Gospel wishes us to understand that these miraculous events carry with them a message. They are signs that point to another reality.

For example, at the wedding feast, six stone jars contain the water that will eventually turn into wine. All told, the jars hold 120 to 180 gallons. That makes a lot of wine. This abundance of wine points to the abundance of grace in God’s kingdom.

There is also significance in the number of the stone water jars. In biblical tradition, the number seven symbolizes fullness or completion.

The number six is just one short of seven. Consequently, it symbolizes incompletion. The six stone water jars for Jewish ceremonial washing represent the incompleteness of that tradition.

The presence of Jesus will bring completion, just as his presence will transform insipid water into tasty, rich wine. Jesus will bring about the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

The Gospel informs us: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs.”  In John’s Gospel, six other signs follow: the healing of the child near death (4:46-54); the healing of a lame man (5:1-18); the multiplication of the loaves and fish (6:1-15); walking on water (6:16-20); giving sight to the man born blind (9:1-40); and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44).

In reporting these seven signs, the Gospel wishes to present the fullness of Jesus’ ministry. It is not attempting to give an exhaustive account of all that Jesus did. The Gospel acknowledges as much: “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book” (20:30).

At the same time, these seven signs point to the fullness of what Jesus was bringing to the world. They contain the message that the Gospel of John wishes to present to us.

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