Why Christ Worked His First Miracle at a Wedding

At the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended a wedding in Cana. Why was this the perfect setting for Him to work His first miraculous sign?

Why Christ Worked His First Miracle at a Wedding
Why Christ Worked His First Miracle at a Wedding

At the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended a wedding in Cana. Why was this the perfect setting for Him to work His first miraculous sign?

Gospel (Read Jn 2:1-11)

St. John tells us that after Jesus called and assembled His disciples, “there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” It is interesting, isn’t it, that right at the start of St. John’s description of Jesus’ public ministry, His mother gets first mention in this story. “Jesus and His disciples were also invited to the wedding,” but “the mother of Jesus” is the one on whom the action pivots. St. John never refers to her as “Mary” in his Gospel. We know from Scripture and tradition that Mary and John lived as mother and son from the time of the Crucifixion. We might expect his description of her to be in more familiar terms. Because St. John’s Gospel is considered to be profoundly interpretive in its report of the details of Jesus’ life, we can legitimately wonder if his reference to Mary as “the mother of Jesus” has a deeper meaning than simply their biological relationship.

Indeed, it does. Recall that the prologue of this Gospel evokes the Creation: “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1).  St. John wants us to be thinking about the early chapters of Genesis, both the glory we see there and the shadow cast by sin.  The only hope for redemption after the Fall will be the fulfillment of a promise made by God.  In speaking to the Serpent, He says: “I will put enmity [a battle] between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (Gn 3:15).  In many subtle ways throughout his Gospel, St. John lets us know that “the woman” and “her seed” have finally appeared.  Their battle against the Serpent has now been enjoined. Thus it is that in describing Mary in this story as “the mother of Jesus,” St. John makes more vivid her connection to God’s promise in Genesis.

In this episode at Cana, it is Mary who is alert to the details of the wedding celebration—perhaps it was the wedding of a near relative.  Running out of wine was awkward and embarrassing for the bridegroom, but why would Mary think the problem should be referred to Jesus?  He was, after all, an itinerant rabbi, not a wine steward!  We have so many questions about this scene, don’t we?  The mystery is intensified when we see that Jesus wasn’t thinking about this wedding as the occasion of His first public “sign.”  Even when Mary comes to Him, there seems to be some resistance from Jesus: “Woman, how does your concern affect Me?”  This is an English translation of a Hebrew idiom.  We are helped to understand it with a quote from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible—New Testament:

[This Hebrew idiom] typically presupposes some perceived tension between two parties having contrary perspectives (Judg 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18; Mk 5:7), though not always (2 Chron 35:21).  When the idiom is used in response to a person’s request … the speaker sometimes capitulates to the expressed will of the other (2 Kings 3:13) and sometimes not (2 Sam 16:10).  Here… Jesus complies with Mary’s request, and Mary herself appears perfectly confident that Jesus will respond favorably to her petition.  In effect, Jesus would not have initiated the miracle at Cana, but neither would Jesus refuse His Mother’s prompting.  (ICSB-NT, pg 164)

So, why was Mary, so absorbed in the details of the wedding, moved to expect a miracle from Jesus to solve this problem?  We don’t know for sure, but we have to wonder if, as she participated in the wedding festivities with her Son in attendance, she recalled that His work, being God’s Son, too, was to be the flesh-and-blood presence of the Bridegroom to God’s people.  During the long history of the Jews, God expressed His covenant relationship with them as a “marriage” (more on this in our First Reading).  In Genesis, the marriage of Adam and Eve was fractured by sin.  Sadly, God’s covenant with His people was also greatly marred by sin.  The Jews spurned their loving “Husband.”  However, the prophets foretold a restoration of the marriage.  Mary knew that Jesus was born to mend this shattered covenant; He was the Bridegroom Who would purify the Bride.

Mary, as the new Eve, prompted her Son to fulfill His vocation in this richly meaningful wedding setting.  In this, she undid what Eve had done in the Garden, when she prompted her bridegroom to sin.  This was Mary’s first public act of advocacy on behalf of God’s people, a work she continues to do for all her children in the Church.  Jesus performs the miracle, transforming the water into the “best” wine.  To make this possible, the servants had to listen to Mary’s directive: “Do whatever He tells you.”

These are Mary’s last words in the Gospel.  They continue to ring out over the centuries to all of us who discover that our lives have no wine—that we are living on the water of sin, meaninglessness, and fear.  The Bridegroom has come to transform all this.  We simply need to do whatever He tells us.

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