For John the Evangelist, it was important to mention that this event occurred only 3 days after Jesus had called His first disciples, and that they came to believe in Him. The timing and the evidentiary value of this “sign” were of paramount significance to John. Again, in the final verse, John writes, “This beginning of His signs… manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” We may miss this critically central point to John’s inclusion and placement of the event if we over-sentimentalize it or exaggerate its symbolic meaning, and forget exactly what it is that John meant by “signs.”
3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”
Jesus’ words to Mary often have been heard as harshly dismissive, as a rebuke of her for even calling the situation to His attention and implying that He would do something about it. He asks in Greek,
Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, literally, “What is that to Me and to you?”
The underlying Hebrew idiom commonly occurs in the OT, and it is translated into almost identical Greek in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT). In every instance without exception the phrase indicates the exploring of a relationship. For example, in Genesis 23, Abraham is negotiating with a Hittite over the price of a field in which he wishes to bury his dead, and he offers him 400 shekels. The Hittite says to Abraham, “What is that to me and to you,” i.e., "What’s the big deal between us? 400 shekels is a mere trifle, given our relationship.” Several times in the gospels the demons ask Jesus, “What is that to us and to You?” before Jesus casts them out. Clearly they are not speaking dismissively to Jesus; on the contrary, they are expressing an awareness of their relationship to Him. And so here, when Mary tells Jesus, "They have no wine," Jesus responds, "What is that to Me and to you? My hour is not yet come." In effect, He says “Watch me work.” And He changes the water into wine.
The phrase is an idiom that has to do both with identifying relationships between persons and also with how those relationships dictate the events that will flow out of them. For Abraham and the Hittite, it was, “Let’s just seal the deal now.” For Jesus and the demons, it was “What do You have in mind to do to us?” And they were cast out. For Jesus and Mary, it was essentially, “I can help with that.” In no instance is it a dismissal of one person by the other.
In fact, it is simply the recognition of a relationship that would determine what would happen next. With both the Gadarene demons and Jesus and Mary there is a reference to time: the relationship is thought to be pushing its appropriate time frame. Jesus was not prepared for a premature public demonstration of His miraculous power, and the demons were not ready for their final judgment. Jesus saves His statements that “the hour has come” for the very end of His ministry (John 12:23, 17:1). On this occasion, only a few persons were even aware of what had happened, and perhaps it was only the disciples who came to believe in Him as a result of this sign.
Jesus’ addressing his own mother as “woman” also has been seen as problematic in English translation. Some translations soften it with “dear woman” or even “dear lady” despite the absence of any word meaning “dear.” Remember that Jesus addresses Mary in the very same way from the Cross, when He is tenderly committing her care to the beloved disciple John. There is nothing dismissive or harsh in this form of address. It is both formal and respectful. It is the same form of address Jesus uses for the Samaritan woman in John 4, for a Syro-Phoenician woman commended for her great faith in Mt. 15, for a Jewish woman who began praising God when Jesus healed her on the Sabbath in Lk. 13, and for Mary Magdalene when He appears to her by the tomb in John 20 after His resurrection.
If Mary had heard Jesus’ words as being harsh or dismissive, it seems unlikely that she would immediately have responded the way she did by instructing the servants to “Do whatever He tells you!” Clearly Mary had some expectation that Jesus, having spoken these words, was about to take action. It also is clear that Mary had a rather prominent relationship with the family celebrating this wedding. Not only did she manage to get invitations both for Jesus and for His brand new entourage of disciples, but she also had the authority to tell the servants what to do.
We all know the subsequent story backwards and forwards, including the considerable scale involved in changing the water in six sizeable waterpots into wine, and into very fine wine at that. It seems inevitable and perhaps not at all inappropriate that the Church has attached sacramental significance to this event, both with regard to marriage itself but also with regard to the wine. Obviously this was not a Eucharist, nor does it in any way correspond to the rather more obvious Eucharistic implications of the Last Supper.
But it seems unmistakable that a miraculous transformation of water to wine in the very first miracle of Jesus, or, using John’s preferred terminology, the very first of Jesus’ “signs,” foreshadows another miraculous transformation that occurs when we participate in the Holy Eucharist. Here, too, we encounter the glory of Jesus, as did the disciples at the wedding feast. And here, with them, we declare our faith in Him through the Creed, we remember the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and we celebrate His Real Presence with us at this table, a presence every bit as real as His presence at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.
Here we gather in a perpetual celebration of His miraculous presence. Here we feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving for the offering of Himself in “the gifts of God for the people of God.” Here we share in the never-ending remembrance of His self-sacrifice on the Cross, and here we share in a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb that we will celebrate with Him in the fullness of His glory. All of this is a privilege that exceeds both word and thought. It is a gift beyond imagination. It is a faith experience that never can be allowed to become routine or casual.
This is why self-examination, confession and the making right of relationships is so vitally important as a safeguard against the very possibility of partaking unworthily to our damnation. Yet of absolutely equal importance is the recognition that never once will we partake “worthily” if we are waiting for it to be a matter of self-worth. Never will you or I be “worthy” to partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus apart from our recognition that we are here by the grace of God alone; that His lovingkindness, His righteousness, His pardon and His peace allow us to gather in His Name and in His holy presence and, with all our hearts, to accept that this bread and this cup are the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and that here we are united with Him and He with us and we with one another.
Here more than anywhere else do we experience the intimacy of our fellowship with Him and also our everlasting life in the community of faith, that fellowship with those who hold hands under the banner of one Lord, one faith and one baptism, with those who have died in that faith and with those who continue to live in it here “below.” Here is where our divisions must cease, where our unbelief must be vanquished, where our self-worth must be stripped away, and where, with the eyes of faith, we will see Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, the unseen Guest at every wedding feast, and the Host of this feast at His table.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen