Passage: John 2:1-11
There were six stone jars standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. And Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’. So they filled them to the brim.
Those details strike me as significant. Six jars, John says, each holding 20 to 30 gallons, and each quite explicitly filled to the brim: it’s an awful lot of water to turn into wine. If we take a conservative estimate, and call it twenty gallons per jar, that’s still equivalent to over 720 bottles. And even if the whole village of Cana came to the reception, that’s still unlikely to have been more than, say, 240 adults, which would mean the miracle supplied the equivalent of three bottles of wine per head; on top of all that had already run out.
So what’s going on here? Why is John at such pains to convey that Jesus provided an excess of wine. If the miracle was simply to demonstrate Jesus’ power, after all, then a single jar (or even a cupful) would’ve been enough. Why the excess? The clue is surely in the way the reading ends, when John tells us that this was the first of Jesus’ signs. So what does an excess point to?
Every miracle of Jesus in the gospels is a sign – of what God is like, and of what God’s coming kingdom is like. That must surely mean, in this case, that the Lord was indicating that it is in the nature of God to lavish his love on us, to bless us abundantly, and to fill our lives ‘to the brim’ with joy and laughter.
Which makes it ironic, to say the least, that the popular concept of God is often of a heavenly Party Pooper, more likely to gatecrash a wedding reception, confiscate the wine and pour it down the nearest sink, than make good a shortfall with a miracle. Many people imagine Jesus, similarly, as someone who takes the colour out of life. Do you know this quotation from the poet Swinburne? ‘O pale Galilean, the world has grown grey from thy breath’. There’s nothing pale or grey or life-smothering about the Jesus of the gospels. And if the popular concept of God is of a spoilsport and a sour task-master, then part of our calling is to confound those expectations here, by the way Jesus in our worship and mission.
This talk was originally followed by these prayer stations: