John 2. 1-11
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…”
Today’s Gospel reading about the wedding at Cana begins much like a Quentin Tarantino movie in the sense that we seem to begin in the middle of a larger story. We are told that this is the ‘third day’, but that begs the question, ‘what then has happened before’? Like a Tarantino movie, we need to first trace the story back in order to understand how we got to this ‘third day’ and then let the story unfold in order to understand where it will lead us. The contrary movement – backwards and then forwards – allows us to see Jesus and be seen by him in a particular way.
What has happened, then, before this ‘third day’? To understand that, John’s Gospel takes us at first not to the preceding two days but to eternity: ‘in the beginning was the Word” (1.1). There is something unique about the historical Jesus because his story unfolds out of the transcendent and eternal vantage point of creative love: “all things came into being through him” (1. 3). Yet, from there, and with cinematic brevity, John turns from eternity to the first three days of Jesus’ ministry: the meeting with John the Baptist, the calling of the first disciples, and the wedding at Cana. No birth narrative, no genealogical lists, just the collapse of eternity into our lives, still full of fervent activity. Jesus seemingly comes out of nowhere – “the world did not know him” as John phrases it (1. 10) – and so we, looking back along with the Gospel characters, are asked how we see Jesus, and how are we seen by him, when he first arrives on the scene?
Some people seem to have no trouble seeing who Jesus is during these first three days. On the first day, John the Baptist sees and declares Jesus as the Lamb and Son of God seemingly without words. The next day, Andrew declares to his brother Simon that he has seen the Messiah and they follow Jesus. The following day, Nathanael proclaims Jesus as the King of Israel and also becomes his disciple.
Other people, however, seem to be unable to see who Jesus is, which takes us to the present of the story today, the third day, the wedding at Cana. Jesus is partly surrounded by those who explicitly or implicitly see something of who he is: his disciples, already feting him with titles; his mother, who, seeing the lack of wine and placing trust in her son, directs the servants to “do whatever [Jesus] tells you”; and the servants who see the first miraculous sign that Jesus performs, the turning of water into wine. Yet, everyone else is oblivious and comically fails to see who Jesus is. The steward, having failed his duties to manage the wedding, asks the bridegroom why he has kept the best wine hidden, and the bridegroom, presumably as drunk as the rest of his guests, does not (or cannot) reply. The effect of the first of Jesus’ miracle, then, is limited to his disciples who “believed in him.” As miracles go, the wedding of Cana seems a bit of an anti-climax, a missed opportunity to wow and amaze.
When we look more closely, however, at the wedding, and when we look at the story unfolding into the future, we might be able to see something different about the wedding at Cana and so be seen by Jesus in a fresh light too. Looking ahead, Jesus performs six more miracles, each more wondrous than the last and culminating in the foreshadowing of his own resurrection when he brings Lazarus back to life (11. 1-44). The divine Word appears as Jesus in these first three days and reveals himself to those with eyes to see until, on another third day, he defeats death and rises to new life. Jesus shares this new life with all who want it at the eternal wedding banquet of the heavenly kingdom, one at which there will be no shortage of wine for the guests.
Within this grand story, flowing out of eternity and returning to it through time, Jesus offers to work a miracle in those who look for and see him: “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1. 16). Within this grand story, the first miracle at Cana is as much about how Jesus sees who we are than it is about who we see him to be. Oftentimes, Jesus sees in us what we cannot see in ourselves, so metaphorically drunk we are with our own particular fears, worries, occupations, or burdens. Himself the water of eternal life, Jesus foreshadows in this first sign at Cana that he offers even more, the wine of his eternal kingdom. We receive Jesus through the waters of baptism and we are transformed by Jesus through the wine of the eucharist. So we stand, week in and week out, like jars of water at the eucharist, being transformed from glory to glory by the presence and love of Christ. But do we have eyes to see Jesus and be seen by him as miracles?