Let the Scriptures Speak
The Bridegroom is Here
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory. ... (John 2:11)
The metaphor of marriage imaging God's relationship with the people of God is deep in the Hebrew Bible. Yahweh is to Israel as husband is to wife. Think of Hosea's comparison of his troubled marriage with the story of God's relationship with Israel. The oracles of Isaiah use this tradition with regard to Israel's future (even messianic) restoration, as for example in this Sunday's first reading, where the coming vindication of Jerusalem is portrayed as a wedding feast for God and his spouse (a sexual image that resists any effort to render it gender-neutral).
Jesus himself makes bold to apply the tradition to himself. When the Pharisees ask why Jesus' disciples are not into extra fasting like those of the Baptist (Mk 2:18), he replies, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” He continues the metaphor by speaking of his presence and ministry as “new wine” demanding new wineskins.
This background helps us appreciate the account of the wedding feast of Cana. Far more is going on here than an affirmation that Jesus “liked a good party” or was affirming the institution of marriage. Both are surely true. But in the Fourth Evangelist's framework, the wedding feast at Cana is nothing less than the revelation of divinity in Jesus as Word made flesh.
John states that the wedding at Cana occurred “on the third day.” Third day relative to what? Relative to Exodus 19:11 and 16, as it turns out. For in the account of Yahweh's appearance on Mount Sinai at the giving of the covenant (Exodus 19-24), the appearance occurs on the 20 Second Sunday of the Year third day, and it is twice referred to as a display of God's “glory” (Ex 24:16-17). John's account of the wedding begins with the third-day note and ends by saying that by this sign Jesus “revealed his glory.” These connections would not be lost on readers who knew their Torah and only moments before had read the prologue, which includes such claims as “The Word became flesh and we saw his glory ... full of grace and truth. ... From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:14,16-17).
Cana, in a sense, acts this out. Take the jars of water that become wine. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine is a great deal. And John is careful to note that the containers are stone jars, that is, vases not made the usual ceramic way, out of clay worked and baked, but sculpted out blocks of stone. Such jars were costly, the very best, and always pure because they were nonporous. John notes that there are six and that they are there for the purpose of Jewish ritual washing. The symbolism is clear. As stone and large, they are special and abundant; but as only six (not seven), they are incomplete. When people do what Jesus says, water becomes a surprising abundance of the best wine of all. The bridegroom has arrived with new wine. The wedding party of the new covenant has begun.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.
**From Saint Louis University