- Analysis of each verse
v. 1 And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Literally:: And on the day the third (tritē) a wedding (gamos) took place in Cana (Kana) of the Galilee and was the mother (mētēr) of the Jesus there.
Third day in relation to what? The clue is provided by 1:43: "The next day Jesus resolved to go to Galilee
". The scene tells of Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael. If we consider this scene as day one, the third day is two days later. And when we look at all the time notations of John ch. 1 (see the analysis of the immediate context), we realize that this 3rd day ends a week of 7 days.
- Day 1 (1: 19-28): Testimony of John the Baptist
- Day 2 (1, 29-34): "the next day": allusion to the baptism of Jesus
- Day 3 (1, 35-39): "the next day": two disciples of the Baptist follow Jesus
- Day 4 (1, 40-42): "that day": Simon's call.
- Day 5 (1, 43-51): "the next day": Nathanael's vocation
- Day 7 (2, 1-11): "the third day" after day 5: wedding at Cana
Why this emphasis on the duration of a week and its climax with the wedding at Cana? This clearly refers us to the Genesis account of God creating the universe in seven days: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was empty and vague, darkness covered the deep, a wind from God whirled over the waters. God said, "Let there be light" and there was light." (see Gen 1:1 2:3). Moreover, does not John begin his gospel thus: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.... That which was in him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not seize it." (John 1:1-5). For the evangelist, with Jesus, we have a new creation.
But the third day evokes for the Christian the resurrection of Jesus. On this subject, see the entire New Testament:
- " He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15: 4);
- "that he must... be killed and, on the third day, be raised." (Mt 16: 21);
- "they will kill him, and on the third day, he will be raised" (Mt 17: 23;
- "they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day, he will be raised" (Mt 20: 19);
- "the Son of Man must be... be crucified, and on the third day" (Lk 24: 7);
- "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day" (Lc 24: 46);
- "God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear" (Acts 10: 40)
In John, the allusion is very clear a few verses later, in the scene of the vendors driven out of the temple where the Jews ask Jesus for a sign that gives him the right to do this and to which Jesus replies, "Take down this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). Of course, the raising of which Jesus speaks is his resurrection. We find the same idea of a new creation: by his resurrection, Jesus replaces the temple, the place of Jewish worship, with his own person. Thus, the wedding at Cana inaugurates a new period associated with his resurrection from the dead.
Finally, let us remember that the notion of the third day does not come from a date in history corresponding to the time of Jesus' resurrection, since there is no account describing Jesus' resurrection. The notion of the third day comes from a text from the prophet Hosea that Christians have read again and associated with the fact that Jesus was now raised up: "After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up and we will live in his presence" (Hosea 6:2).
Thus, from the outset, by this simple mention of time, we are warned of the context in which we must read this story of the wedding at Cana.
Of course, to speak of a wedding is to speak of marriage, a phenomenon that is part of everyday life. But in the Bible, weddings also have a symbolic value in describing God's relationship with his people, as we see in Isaiah: "Your creator is your bridegroom, Yahweh Shebaot is his name, the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth" (Isaiah 54:5); this is also the case in Hosea, where God describes himself as a disappointed bridegroom: "Therefore, I will deceive her, I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart" (Hosea 2:16). This idea is taken up by Revelation, which describes the believers' wedding feast with Christ, called the Lamb: "For this is the marriage of the Lamb, and his bride is made beautiful" (Revelation 19:7). This symbolic look at the wedding scene at Cana is important, otherwise it loses all its value and importance to become nothing more than a news story.
This small village was located 10 miles north of Nazareth, about a three-hour walk (see Palestine map
). In the whole New Testament, John is the only one to allude to it, first in this wedding scene (Jn 2:1,11), then in the account of the healing of a royal official's son (Jn 4:46). He also mentions that Nathanael was from Cana. The source used here in the fourth gospel was therefore familiar with this part of the country.
The fourth gospel never gives the name of Jesus' mother, even though he probably knew it. Why not? Throughout his gospel, he wants to keep the background at the level of faith: that is the level where true relationships matters. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus' mother, who appears here at the beginning of his ministry, does not return until the end of the gospel, in front of Jesus on the cross, when he says to his mother, "Woman, behold your son
," and he says to the beloved disciple, "Here is your mother
". We are faced with a semitic inclusion
|Noun mētēr in the New Testament|
||v. 2 Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples.
Literally:: Then, was invited (eklēthē) also the Jesus and the disciples (mathētai) of him to the wedding.
||eklēthē (he was invited)
The verb kaleō (to call, name, invite) is very rare in John (Mt = 24; Mk = 4; Lk = 44; Jn = 2); its only other use is to say that Simon will be called (kaleō) henceforth Peter. Here we would have the clue of a pre-Johannine source. Why mention this fact? As we shall see later, the entire vocabulary of the Cana wedding narrative bears the mark of John and his theological vocabulary. But it is likely that he did not create this scene out of thin air, but took over a story in which Jesus' family participates in a wedding.
It is worthwhile to repeat here a statement of M.-E. Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean
. Paris: Cerf, 1977, p. 80) that the original account spoke of "brethren" rather than "disciples," and that it was a scribe or gospel reviser who replaced brethren with disciples under the influence of v. 11 (and his disciples believed in him
). The arguments made are these:
- The words "and his disciples" in v. 12 (Afterwards he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother and his brethren and his disciples) are omitted by important witnesses to the Johannine text: the Sinaiticus codex, a dozen minuscules, the best manuscripts of the Old Latin Version, the Armenian and Georgian versions, Epiphanius, Jerome and Chrysostom.
- The Alexandrian text with P66 and P75 where we read in v. 12 "... he and his mother and the brothers and his disciples" gives the impression that "his disciples" was added afterwards, because we should have had: he and his mother and the brothers and the disciples, the possessive adjective covering the enumeration that follows as was common in Greek; thus, it is likely that originally we had only "he and his mother and the brothers" and that "and his disciples" was added afterwards, which would explain the appearance for a second time of the possessive adjective.
- Chrysostom (349 407) and Epiphanius (315 403) read the following text in v. 2: "And Jesus was invited to the wedding, and his mother was there, and his brothers."
- We know that scribes sometimes modified the gospel text by copying it. But it is easier to understand that a scribe replaced brother with disciple than the other way around.
Boismard's hypothesis allows us to reconstruct the beginning of the story that John would have had in his possession in this way: And there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee and Jesus was invited to the wedding and his mother was there and his brothers. The advantage of such a reconstruction is that it presents us with a plausible scene from 1st century Palestine where Jesus' entire family is invited to a wedding.
||v. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother came to Jesus and said, "They have no more wine."
Literally:: And when having been lacking (hysterēsantos) wine (oinou), says (legei) the mother of the Jesus towards (pros) him, wine they don't have.
||hysterēsantos (it has been lacking)
This is a very rare verb (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 1). In Matthew (19:20) and Mark (10:21) it appears in the context of the man who has observed the commandments and wonders what else he lacks, while in Luke it appears first in the parable of the prodigal son who begins to lack the basic goods (15:14), and in a question of Jesus asking his disciples if they lacked anything on their mission (22:35). This is an indication that it is not part of John's usual vocabulary, and therefore probably comes from a source he uses. For Boismard, this source is document C.
|Verb hystereō in the Gospels-Acts|
Contrary to what one might think, there is not much mention of wine in the Gospels (Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 6; Jn = 6). In the synoptic accounts, the word is used mainly in an analogy by Jesus to explain why his disciples do not fast: new wine needs new wineskins (Mk 2:22; Mt 9:17; Lk 5:37-38). Otherwise, in Mark and Matthew, the word appears at the cross when Jesus is given wine mixed with gall/myrrh (Mk 15:23; Mt 27:34). Of course, there was wine at Jesus' last meal with his disciples, but the references are indirect as they speak of "the cup", "the product of the vine" and the fact that Jesus will drink new wine in the future Kingdom. Only Luke, without saying directly that Jesus was a wine drinker, insists on contrasting John the Baptist who did not drink any alcohol (Lk 1:15; 7:33), and Jesus who was considered a drunkard (Lk 7:34). With John, we find ourselves in a totally different context: all the references to wine are linked to the scene at Cana (Jn 2:3.9.10; 4:46), in keeping with his habit of grouping important themes. What would that theme be here?
In the Old Testament, wine is linked to the feast, in particular to the feast offered by God who comes to liberate his people: "Yahweh Sabaot prepares for all peoples on this mountain a feast of fatty meats, a feast of good wines, of mellow meats, of stripped wines. He has destroyed on this mountain the veil that veiled all peoples and the cloth that was stretched over all nations; he has removed death forever. The Lord Yahweh has wiped away the tears from all faces; he will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth, for Yahweh has spoken" (Isaiah 25:6-8). The presence of Jesus is associated with this feast. This is the meanings of Mark's words when he puts into Jesus' mouth this answer to the Pharisees who ask why the disciples do not fast: "As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast". This is the time of the feast, the time of God's wedding with his people. With the wedding at Cana, John presents the same theme.
||legei pros (he says towards)
The sentence may seem trite. But the syntax points out an interesting point. For the usual way of Mark, probably from Jerusalem, and of the Jew Matthew to express the fact that a person is talking to someone is to use the verb legō (to say) followed by a dative form, or indirect complement, as in English: to say to someone. Although John also uses this construction, he also employs a very common construction in the Greek world, the verb legō (to say) followed by pros (to, towards) and the accusative, or direct object complement, as in English: to tell someone (Mt = 1; Mk = 4; Lk = 89; Jn = 18). As we can see, this is a construction that Luke, the Greek, uses very frequently. All this reinforces the idea that the introduction of the intervention of the mother of Jesus with the expression "saying to Jesus" is situated in a Greek context. And in fact, for Boismard, we find here the pen of John IIB, the evangelist John when he left Palestine to join the Greek world of Asia Minor, probably in Ephesus. What does this mean? The ancient source probably mentioned that the wine ran out, but John would have added the intervention of Jesus' mother, in accordance with her role as described in the cross, at the end of the gospel (we will come back to the different layers of the story when we analyze its structure).
||wine they don't have
The question that arises here: is it not implausible that a guest should intervene to settle a problem of stewardship? Another point of implausibility: why address Jesus? So far Jesus has done nothing extraordinary, and it is not clear why he would do anything about a very minor problem. Which leads to a third question: why is running out of wine an important problem that merits divine intervention? Honestly. Do people really need to get drunk? It is clear that, simply from a historical and human perspective, there is something wrong with the story. Let's go back to the symbolism of wine, which is linked to the feast and to God's liberating action, to the symbolism of the wedding of God and his people. Not having wine means not having a feast and a wedding, not having this relationship of God with his people. At this level, not having wine is dramatic. At this level, it is precisely the role of Jesus to re-establish this relationship, and we understand the role of Jesus' mother. John wanted to make her the mother of believers, the mother of the Christian community. His intervention makes sense: it is up to Jesus to restore the feast, the wedding of the people with their God.
||v. 4 But Jesus answered her, "Lady, why are you telling me this? My hour has not yet come."
Literally:: And he says to her the Jesus, What to me and to you (ti emoi kai soi), woman (gynai)? Not yet is come the hour (hōra) of me.
||ti emoi kai soi (What to me and to you)
This is a very Hebrew expression to say: What do we have in common? What relationship is there between us that you should address me. We have several examples of this in the Old Testament:
- Judges 11:12 (LXX): And Jephthah sent envoys to the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What is there between me and thee (Ti emoi kai soi), that thou art come hither to bring war into my land
- 2 Samuel 16:10 (LXX): But the king said, What is there between you and me (Ti emoi kai hymin), son of Serviah? Let him alone, and let him continue to curse, for the Lord told him to curse David; who then shall go and say unto him, Whence doest thou do so?"
- 2 Samuel 19:23 (LXX): But David said, What is there between you and me (Ti emoi kai hymin), sons of Sarvia, that you lay a snare for me today? No man in Israel this day shall be put to death; do I not know that I rule over Israel?
- 1 Kings 17:18 (LXX): And the woman said unto Elijah, What is there between me and thee (Ti emoi kai soi), O man of God? Have you come to me to call to mind my sins, and to kill my son?
Thus, the setting is a hostile interaction where one of the protagonists is saying, as it were: what have I done to you that you would want to harm me? We find the same idea in the New Testament.
- Mark 1:24 || Mt 8:29 || Lk 4:34: saying, "What do you want from us (ti hēmin kai soi), Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to lose us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God."
- Mark 5:7 || Lk 8:28: And cried out with a loud voice, "What do you want from me (ti emoi kai soi), Jesus, son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!"
In John's case, the context is not hostile, so we have to give a different meaning to this expression. The idea is rather: why enter into a relationship, we are not on the same wavelength. Why does the evangelist put such a word in Jesus' mouth when he is addressing his mother? We have to look at the rest.
We may be surprised to see Jesus calling his mother: woman, and not mother, or mom. The first observation we can make is that the evangelist uses the same expression several times:
- John 4:21: Jesus said to her (the Samaritan woman), "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
- John 8: 10: Then, straightening up, Jesus told her (the adulterous woman), "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
- John 19:26: Jesus therefore seeing his mother, and standing by her, the disciple whom he loved, said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son."
- John 20:13: These (two angels) say to her (Mary Magdalene), "Woman, why do you weep?" She said to them, "Because my Lord has been taken away, and I do not know where he has been put."
- John 20:15: Jesus said to her (Mary Magdalene), "Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek?" Taking him for the gardener, she said to him, "Lord, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away."
He is not alone in this.
- Matthew 15:28: Then Jesus answered her (the Canaanite woman), "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you wish!" And from that moment her daughter was healed.
- Luke 13:12: When Jesus saw her, he called out to her (the woman with blood loss) and said, "Woman, behold, you are delivered from your infirmity"
- Luke 22: 57: But he (Peter who denies knowing Jesus) denied it, saying, "Woman, I don't know him."
In everyday English, "woman" would have to be translated as "ma'am", which expresses a certain respect, but without intimacy. So why does the evangelist John put this word in Jesus' mouth when he addresses his mother? Let's anticipate what we will say in the next paragraph: it is only in the context of the hour, i.e. that of the resurrection of Jesus, and of faith in this resurrection, that relationships will take on their true dimension. We have two examples:
- John 19:27: Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother."
- John 20:16: Jesus said to her, "Mary!" Turning around, she said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni" - which means, "Teacher."
When the time comes for Jesus to join his father, the relationship changes. The mother of Jesus is no longer simply "madam", she becomes the mother of believers. Mary of Magdala, who used to be called "woman" or "madam", becomes Mary, the one who enters into the intimacy of Jesus. For the evangelist, the period before the hour and the one introduced by the hour represent two different worlds, which the titles given to the people try to translate.
Even if the fourth gospel is not the only one to speak of the hour (in fact only Mark, in Gethsemane, speaks of the hour as a reference to the trial and death of Jesus, taken up by Matthew), it nevertheless makes it a key notion (Mt = 15; Mk = 11; Lk = 5; Jn = 25). Let us immediately set aside the uses where the hour is not linked to the death of Jesus, but simply refers to the time that marks our days: the tenth hour (1:39); the sixth hour (4:6); the seventh hour (4:52-53); one hour (5:35); twelve hours (11:9); the hour of childbirth (16:21); the sixth hour (19:14); that hour (19:27).
Of the 25 uses in John, 15 remain that have theological meaning. They can be grouped into four categories:
- Jesus' time has not come
- At the wedding in Cana, he seems to decline his mother's request (2: 4)
- His enemies do not succeed in seizing him (7: 30; 8: 20)
- Jesus' time is coming
- At that time the Father will no longer be worshipped on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem (4: 21)
- At that moment the disciples will be killed by people who think they are worshipping God (16: 2)
- Jesus announces in advance what awaits the disciples because at that moment he will no longer be with them (16: 4)
- The hour of Jesus has begun to arrive
- The hour is coming - and it is now - when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (4: 23)
- The hour is coming - and it is now - when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (5: 25.28)
- Jesus' time has come
- (When the Greeks want to see Jesus) The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (12: 23)
- Now my soul is troubled. And what can I say? Father, save me from this hour! But this is why I have come to this hour (12: 27)
- Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end (13: 1)
- So Jesus spoke, and looking up to heaven, he said, "Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you and, according to the power you have given him over all flesh, may give eternal life to all those you have given him" (17: 1-2)
The hour refers to Jesus' death on the cross, followed by his resurrection. This hour begins at the moment when the Greeks want to see Jesus (ch. 12), and thus at the moment when we anticipate the attraction to Jesus of all humanity, an attraction that is the fruit of his death-resurrection. This death is celebrated with his last supper (which begins in ch. 13) where John presents us with his farewell speech. But what is important is to grasp its impact.
- The old worship, no matter where the temple is, will be replaced by a new worship without a temple, where the relationship to God is in spirit and in truth
- The dead will live again
- Jesus will have a universal appeal
- Jesus will give eternal life to all who come to him
- At the same time, the disciples of Jesus will experience persecution and even death in their turn
By understanding the meaning of the hour, can we answer the question: what is the link between Jesus' hour and his mother's request? The true celebration of the wedding of the people with their God must pass through this hour in which Jesus loves to the point of giving his life, in which final death is defeated and eternal life is offered.
||v. 5 His mother said to the waiters, "Whatever he tells you, do it."
Literally:: Says the mother (mētēr) of him to the servants (diakonois), That anything perchance he might say to you, do (ho ti an legē hymin poiēsate).
Let's make some observations about this word. When we look at all the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, we can group what this word means under three categories: 1) the mother of Jesus; 2) the mother of a specific person, such as Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, or Herodias, mother of the one who danced in front of Herod; 3) the mother in general, such as the request to honor one's mother. The following table can be drawn up.
|The mother of Jesus||8||2||7||10||1|
|The mother of a specific person||5||4||5||0||3|
|The mother in general||13||11||5||1||0|
In this context, we observe that John is the one who makes the most reference to the mother of Jesus in all the gospels. This is all the more surprising since he does not have an infancy narrative as in Matthew and Luke, where Jesus' mother is omnipresent. These references in John appear first at the wedding at Cana (4 times), at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, and at the cross (4 times), at the end of his ministry, thus forming a large inclusion. The only other reference to Jesus' mother is found in the mouths of the Jews, who said, "Is not this one Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? (6: 42). Finally, the only reference to the mother in general is in the mouth of Nicodemus who wonders how to enter his mother's womb a second time and be born again (3: 4). What can we conclude? John gives a fundamental role to the mother of Jesus and makes her carry out her role as explained in the cross, that of being the mother of believers. This must be taken into account in the interpretation of the wedding at Cana.
Contrary to what one might think, the word diakonos
(servant, minister, deacon) is infrequent in the gospels (Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 3). The same is true of its twin brother, the verb diakoneō
(to serve, to be a servant, to be a deacon), which is not much more frequent (Mt = 6; Mk = 5; Lk = 8; Jn = 3). When we put these two words together, we note that they are used to designate three different situations: 1) to be under the authority of someone whose requests are being fulfilled (whoever wishes to become great among you, he shall be your servant
); 2) to perform table service (Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me
); 3) to provide for someone's needs (and Joanna, ...and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
). Here is a grid according to the gospels.
|Being under the authority of someone||4||4||1||3|
|Serving at tables||1||0||5||3|
|To provide for someone's needs||4||3||2||0|
In this context, the fourth gospel has some interesting features. First of all, note how close it is to Luke's gospel: like Luke, the serving of tables occupies a certain place (apart from them, only Matthew mentions it, but in the context of a parable), and in both gospels Martha is one of the subjects of this action. Table service appears at the wedding in Cana, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, and at the meal with Martha and Mary (ch. 12), with Lazarus, shortly before his last meal (ch. 13) and his death. The symbolism of the meal thus appears at strategic moments, framing his ministry. Here we have a form of inclusion. And every time we talk about a meal, we are talking about service, including the last meal where Jesus sets out to wash his disciples' feet, inviting his disciples to be servants (doulos, a synonym for diakonos). Here is the paradox: the meal evokes celebration and joy, but at the same time service.
||ho ti an legē hymin poiēsate (that anything perchance he might say to you, do)
The first observation to be made concerns the connection of this expression with a passage in Genesis concerning the story of Joseph. Let us recall the story. Pharaoh has a dream that Joseph will interpret as seven years of abundance that will be followed by seven years of famine, and which gives him the opportunity to invite him to make reserves to avoid the disaster. Joseph is seen as a wise man and is put in charge of the country to assist Pharaoh (see Genesis 41:1-57). When famine strikes the land, Pharaoh says, "Go to Joseph, and do as he tells you (ho ean eipē hymin, poiēsate
)". This expression here is almost identical to John's: ho
(the demonstrative pronoun "that"); ean
express the same idea of a conditional reality (perchance), eipē
are two forms of the same verb legō (to say), one in the aorist subjunctive, the other in the indicative subjunctive; hymin
(personal pronoun "to you"); poiēsate
(the verb "to do" in the aorist imperative, "do").
John would thus make a connection between Joseph, Yahweh's providential envoy to Egypt, to address the problem of food shortage, and Jesus, the Father's envoy, to address the problem of wine shortage, which is basically the absence of this wedding between God and his people.
But it is important to make another observation. Who speaks this word and invites to listen to Jesus, no matter what he says? The mother of Jesus, whom we have defined as the mother of believers. Now Jesus has just told her that her time has not yet come. Isn't there something illogical about acting as if he hadn't said anything? We have here a typically Johannine procedure. Let us put three scenes in parallel.
|Wedding of Cana||Healing of the centurion's son||The resuscitation of Lazarus|
|Problematic situation||There is no more wine||The centurion's son is sick in Capernaum||Lazarus of Bethany is ill|
|Jesus seems to refuse to act||My time has not yet come||Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe!||This disease does not lead to death|
|Insistence of the requester who expresses his faith as follows||Whatever he tells you, do it||Lord, come down before my little child dies||Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who comes into the world|
Jesus' apparent refusal seems to emphasize the requester's faith. But there is more. This refusal expresses an aspect of the theology of the fourth gospel: the supreme freedom of Jesus. No one can force him to do anything, no one can even arrest and kill him. It is always Jesus who takes the initiative to act, including the initiative to give his life. This is what we call the "high theology" of John, where the earthly Jesus already bears the features of the risen one.
||v. 6 There were six stone jars there, which had been set up for the purification of the Jews, each containing two or three forty-liter measures.
Literally:: Then, there were there six (hex) jars (hydriai) of stone (lithinai) according to the purification (katharismon) of the Jews (Ioudaiōn), standing, having room (chōrousai) for up to two or three measures (metrētas).
With lithinos (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1) we are faced with a vocabulary that only John presents in all the gospels. These are rare words, for only lithinos is found elsewhere in the entire New Testament, once in Paul (2 Corinthians 3:3) to contrast tables of stone and tables of flesh, and once in Revelation to describe the material of idols (Revelation 9:20). As for hydria, apart from the two uses in the wedding at Cana, it only appears in the entire New Testament in the account of the Samaritan woman (4:28) when she leaves her jar or pitcher to run into town to tell of her encounter with Jesus. Clearly, we are not dealing with the usual vocabulary of the evangelist. It should come as no surprise that M.E. Boismard (Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean) attributes these two words to the source (Document C) that the evangelist uses.
(Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 3) appears only in John in all the gospels. When we turn to the Septuagint, that Greek translation of the Old Testament, we will be surprised to learn that the word hydria
is not so frequent. First, there is this scene around a well where Rebecca will agree to pour her pitcher to make Abraham's servant who has come to look for a wife for his son Isaac drink, and who will also take the initiative to pour water for his camels, a sign that she is the woman chosen by Yahweh (Genesis 24). But above all there is the story of the poor widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) to whom the prophet Elijah asks to prepare a piece of bread, and to whom the woman replies that she has only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a flask, which she will consume before dying with her son. Nevertheless, the woman will prepare bread for the prophet, for the prophet had promised her in the name of Yahweh: Jar (hydria) of flour shall not run out, pitcher of oil shall not be emptied, until the day Yahweh sends rain upon the face of the earth
. And the word of God was fulfilled, the jar of flour was not exhausted, and the jug of oil was not emptied. This story marked the imagination of the first Christians who saw through Elijah the figure of Jesus, which colored much of their catechesis.
The story of the wedding at Cana bears traces of this: we are not talking about a jar of flour that does not run out or a jug of oil that does not empty, but of water that becomes excellent wine. Moreover, even the expression seen earlier in the mouth of Jesus: "What is there between you and me?", is also found in our narrative in the mouth of the widow who addresses Elijah: "What is there between me and you (Ti emoi kai soi)" (1 Kings 17:18).
Why does the evangelist bother to mention that there were six jars? Because he could have simply said, "there were stone jars there". If he goes to the trouble of specifying that there were six, it is very likely that he intends to give them a symbolic meaning. Symbolic of what? Apart from passages where the time is marked with "six days later", or "six days before Passover", we have little indication of its symbolic value (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 3). On the other hand, we know that the number seven symbolized fullness or totality in the Jewish world. When Matthew puts into Peter's mouth whether he should forgive up to seven times, he intends to express what the fullness of forgiveness should be (Mt 18:21). In the same way, the length of the week was seven days, because according to Genesis, God worked for six days and on the seventh day he rested, so that the Jews would work six days and on the seventh day they would rest and celebrate (Gen 2:1-2). The same logic was transposed to the agricultural cycle, where they would cultivate for six years, and in the seventh year they would let the land lie fallow (Exodus 23:11). And this seventh year was also a year of grace when slaves were freed from their obligations (Exodus 21:2; see Luke 4:19 where Jesus refers to Isaiah's passage about a year of grace and identifies it with his ministry). In short, we can conclude that the number six belongs to imperfection, awaiting the completion that the number seven will bring.
The word katharismos
appears infrequently in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 2). Two other words point to the same reality, katharizō
(purify, cleanse: Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 7; Jn = 0) and katharos
(pure without stain: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 4). The three words refer to a practice that was well known in antiquity, and that the Bible has made well known to us: the profane world and the sacred world represent two quite different worlds, and one cannot pass from one to the other without some ritual that allows one to leave behind the profane world, for example the ritual of water ablutions or immersion in water by which one becomes pure and worthy of the sacred world. To understand what this is about, we need to refer to this passage from Mark 7:1-4:
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, and when they saw some of his disciples eating with unclean, that is, unwashed hands -- the Pharisees, in fact, and all the Jews do not eat without washing their arms up to the elbow, according to the tradition of the elders, and they do not eat on their way back from the public square until they have sprinkled themselves with water, and there are many other practices that they observe by tradition washing of cups, jugs and brazen dishes
The gospels also mention a number of situations that required a special rite of purification, such as those following a cure for leprosy (Mk 1:40-44) or a birth (Lk 2:22). In short, the presence of water was necessary in a place where a reception was offered and where food was eaten, as at the wedding in Cana: the guests had to wash their hands and arms before taking part in the meal.
But why does the evangelist insist that these jars were used for the purification of the Jews? Because he could have mentioned the jars without specifying what they were for. It should be noted that in the fourth gospel the word "Jew" (Ioudaios: Mt = 13; Mk = 10; Lk = 14; Jn = 77) has a negative connotation, since it designates the adversary, those who oppose Jesus. Therefore, the allusion to the purification of the Jews through the rite of ritual ablutions must be interpreted in a polemical context: as Jesus will announce to the Samaritan woman the replacement of the temple of Mount Gerizim and that of Jerusalem by his own person, so it is to be expected that Jesus will replace this purification of water by something else. Indeed, Jesus will say at his last supper, "You are already clean (katharos) because of the word I have given you" (John 15:3).
|Adjective ioudaios in the Gospels-Acts|
||chōrousai (having room)
The word chōreō (welcome, receive, make room for, contain: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 3) is infrequent and altogether trite, which is applied on two occasions to the spoken word (my word has no place (chōreō) in you, Jn 8:37), or the written word (if we wrote down the things that Jesus did, the world itself would not be enough to contain (chōreō) the books, Jn 21:25). In this context, to speak of jars that receive (chōreō) water with the same verb used to denote the reception of the word might appear an interesting play on words, but it would probably be seeing things that the author himself missed.
The word metrētēs (measure) is unique in the entire New Testament (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1). It is a liquid unit of measure, presumably corresponding to the Jewish bath, or a little over 10 US gallons. So we can imagine the capacity of the six jars: either more than 468 US gallons (6 jars X 2 measures of 10 US gallons), or the equivalent of more than 624 bottles of wine (750 ml), or more than 186 US gallons (6 jars X 3 measures of 10 US gllons), or the equivalent of more than 936 bottles of wine. Such quantities appear a little implausible in the context of a small village. But they are intended to underline the superabundance of what Jesus comes to bring.
||v. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water". And they filled them to the brim.
Literally:: Says to them the Jesus, Fill (gemisate) the jars with water. And they filled them up to brim (anō).
The Greek word gemizō
is very rare not only in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 2; Lk = 1; Jn = 3), but also in the entire New Testament (it appears only in Revelation with the angel filling a shovel with fire and the temple being filled with smoke; see 8:5 and 15:8). The same statement can be made for the Old Testament. The gospels, Luke in particular, most often use pimplēmi
(fill, satiate, be filled) to convey the idea of filling or being filled (Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 13; Jn = 0). Gemizō
is used twice by Mark: the boat filling with water during the story of the stilled storm (4:37) and on the cross when the sponge is filled with vinegar to be handed to Jesus (15:36); and once by Luke in a parable where the master, disappointed that people have not responded to his invitation to a banquet, forces people to come in so that the house will be filled (14:23). In John, the word appears twice in our verse and in the scene where Jesus feeds a large crowd, when the barley loaves that were left over are collected and filled into twelve baskets (6:13). What can we conclude? First of all, it must be noted that there is no kinship between John and the synoptics around the stories to which this vocabulary belongs, and that in John himself we are not faced with a familiar word. Nevertheless, we must recognize that the word is found in two so-called miracle stories, one with wine, the other with bread. Perhaps it belongs to two ancient accounts from the same milieu that the evangelist would have reused.
We may have noted that Jesus' action comes after he has apparently refused to act. Earlier we noted that this is a typical Johannine procedure, especially in the miracle stories, where he intends to express the supreme freedom of Jesus who refuses to act under pressure: he does only what his Father asks of him. Outside the miracle stories, we also find the same procedure in the scene in Galilee where Jesus' brothers ask him to come with them to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-10). Let us draw a parallel.
|Jn 2||Jn 7|
|Setting||1 And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee... |
3 While there was a shortage of wine,
|1 After this, Jesus went about Galilee; he had no authority to go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him|
2 Now the Jewish feast of Tents was near.
|Request from a relative||the mother addressed Jesus and said, "They have no more wine."||3 So his brothers said to him, "Pass from here into Judea, that your disciples also may see the works that you do: |
4 one does not act in secret, when one wants to be in sight. Since you are doing these things, reveal yourself to the world."
5 For not even his brothers believed in him.
|Refusal of Jesus||4 But Jesus said to her, "Lady, why are you telling me this? My time has not yet come"||6 Jesus then said to them, "My time has not yet come, while yours is always ready...|
8 You go up to the feast; I do not go up to this feast, because my time is not yet fulfilled."
9 Having said this, he remained in Galilee
|Action after the fact of Jesus||7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them to the brim...|
9 When the head steward tasted the water that had become wine...
|10 But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not in the open, but in secret.|
This parallel allows a number of observations.
- In both cases we are in front of a public event
- In both cases it is relatives who make a request to Jesus
- The request concerns an intervention in which Jesus must reveal an extraordinary capacity, a revelation of his exceptional being
- However, the requesters differ in that the mother of Jesus is the model of the believer (she said to the waiters: "Whatever he tells you, do it"), while his brothers are on the contrary the model of the unbeliever (not even his brothers believed in him)
- Jesus' refusal is based on the same reasons: his hour or his time has not arrived, which means that he does not perceive that it corresponds to what his Father is asking of him now
- Finally, in both cases, Jesus will act when he decides, but it will be in his own way: on the one hand, his transformation of the water from the jars is original, because it was never requested by his mother; on the other hand, he will go to the Feast of Tabernacles, not according to the conditions of his brothers, but according to his own conditions, i.e. in secret
All this corresponds in John to the supreme transcendence of Jesus in relation to all human will, for he aspires to do only one thing, to do the will of his Father. But in doing so, he nevertheless responds to human requests, but in a different and even greater way: on the one hand, the wine offered will be superabundant and the best there is; on the other hand, its revelation to the world will have a universal dimension that will reach all times.
The word anō is translated literally: up, upward, but in our verse it is rendered as: edge, brim. It is a word found only in John in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 3), and only a few times (6) in the rest of the New Testament to refer primarily to "heaven above." Even in John, its use to denote the top or brim of the jar is unique, for in the other two cases it is synonymous with heaven: I am from above (8:23); Jesus looked up above and said, "Father" (11:41). All of this reinforces what we said earlier: verse 7 does not reflect John's usual vocabulary, but rather a source he would have used.
||v. 8 Then he said to them, "Now draw water from the jars and take it to the head steward". And they brought it to him.
Literally:: And he says to them, draw out (antlēsate) now (nyn) and carry (pherete) to the head steward (architriklinō). Then, them, they carried.
||antlēsate (draw out)
In line with what we just said in the previous verse, the verb antleō
(draw) is unique to John and appears nowhere else in the entire New Testament (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 4): we see it here and in the next verse to describe the action of drawing water turned into wine, and in the account of the Samaritan woman where the evangelist tells that she had come to Jacob's well to draw water (4:7) and that she later asks Jesus to give her water so that she would not have to come to the well to draw water (4:15). There is undoubtedly a kinship between the two scenes, for both revolve around the water that Jesus is able to transform into a superabundant and inexhaustible source of joy and life (note that for Boismard, John's source Document C also contained the story of the Samaritan woman).
Given the limited data available in the New Testament, we can turn to the Old Testament to explore the meaning of the gesture of drawing. Surprisingly, the word is very infrequent. But two points are worth noting.
- The Bible tells of two decisive scenes around a well where women come to draw water: the one where Rebecca draws water for Isaac's envoy and his camels, a sign from Yahweh that she will be the wife of Abraham's son (Genesis 24); the one where Moses will come to the rescue of the daughters of a priest of Midian who came to the well to draw water for their flock but were attacked by shepherds, which will lead him to marry one of the priest's daughters, Cipporah (Exodus 2:15-21)
- Given the vital dimension of the action of drawing water, the gesture will take on a symbolic value: "This is my God and my Savior; in him I will put my trust, and I will not fear; for the Lord is my glory, he is my praise, he is my salvation. Draw (antleō) with joy the water from the fountains of salvation" (Isaiah 12:2-3)
The Old Testament setting colors our scene: the place where the water is drawn is the source of the covenants that lead to marriage, and drawing water is equivalent to drawing from the sources of salvation. Is this not the profound meaning of the wedding at Cana? Around these jars where the water is drawn that Jesus transforms with his person, a covenant is initiated that will be a source of eternal life, according to the words of the evangelist.
Here is a common adverb that may seem trivial, but in the context of the fourth gospel (Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 13; Jn = 29) it is not. On a simple statistical level, we note how John surpasses all the others in its use. Why is this? For him, even though he speaks of a historical Jesus who announces the Kingdom of his Father, this Kingdom is already present, now: what, for the other evangelists, is a future, is for him already partly realized. Let us look briefly at his use of the word "now" which can be grouped into four main categories.
- Now the cross, which he sometimes calls "his hour", the end of his mission, which he presents as a glorification (13: 31), even if his soul is troubled (12: 27), because it means the return to the Father (17: 5), to the one who sent him (16: 5); and this death brings a new reality:
- Now, the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (4:23)
- Now the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (5:25)
- Now, the Prince of this world will be thrown out (12:31)
- Now, the world will recognize that it is truly from God (17:7)
- Now the world will experience the complete joy that dwells in it (17:13)
- This is a new situation, because the very presence and mission of Jesus has introduced a judgment that has two aspects:
A positive aspect for some:
- Now, the adulteress is forgiven and is called to sin no more (8:11)
- Now, for the disciples the language of Jesus became clear (16:29)
- Now, the disciples believe without needing to question Jesus (16:30)
- Now, Martha believes that despite the death of Lazarus Jesus' prayer will be effective (11:22)
A negative aspect for others
- Now the Jews seek to kill Jesus, because he speaks the truth (8:40)
- Now, the Jews know that Jesus is demon possessed (8:52)
- Now, the Jews remain in their sin because they claim to see (9:41)
- Now, the Jews seek to stone him (11:8)
- Now, the Jews have no excuse for their sin, for Jesus has spoken to them (15:22)
- Now that the Jews have seen the works of Jesus, they hate Jesus and his Father (15: 24)
- Now, Pilate is mistaken in imagining that Jesus is king of an earthly kingdom, for his kingdom is not of this world (18:36)
- The now of the Church where Simon Peter is not able to follow Jesus immediately (13: 36), but only later; where the disciples have known in advance the fate of Jesus, which allows them to believe in his word (14: 29); where they live in sadness the absence of Jesus, but will be able to live again the unspeakable joy of his presence (16: 22)
- The now of the present moment in the historical sequence
- Now, the Samaritan woman's current companion is not her husband (4:18)
- Now, how can someone well known as Joseph's son now say that he came down from heaven? (6: 42)
- Now, how can anyone who was blind see? (9: 21)
- Now, Jesus asks to bring the fish of the catch (21:10)
After this analysis of the word "now", let's go back to our verse and ask ourselves: in which category do we place the "now" in Jesus' words: "Draw now". Of course, after having asked earlier to fill the jars, the word "now" makes sense to describe the logical continuation of an action. But knowing all the registers on which the evangelist plays with this word, we could just as well put it in the category of the new situation he has introduced by his presence and his mission: now, from now on, we can draw from this water that has become wine, which is fundamentally his word. Let us not forget that this is the beginning of his ministry, the first of the signs he will give us.
|Adverb nyn referring to time in John|
The verb pherō (to carry, to bear, to bring, to carry away, to carry along) is in common use especially in Mark and John (Mt = 2; Mk = 15; Lk = 4; Jn = 17). In the 4th gospel, the verb is used in all sorts of ways: to bring food or to bring something (4: 33; 19, 39; 21, 10), to bear fruit (12: 24; 15: 184.108.40.206.16), to bear an accusation (18: 29), to carry one's finger and hand in the wounds of Jesus (20: 27), to lead someone (21: 10). In short, there is little to say about this term except that it belongs to John's vocabulary.
||architriklinō (head steward)
The name architriklinos (head steward, feast organizer) appears in the entire Bible only in the wedding at Cana (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 3). It is formed from the contraction of three words: archōn (chief), tri-klinos (three beds/divans). So it was a superintendent who watched over the guests who ate on a couch. The presence of a butler or head steward suggests that it was a large banquet with the presence of a number of guests.
||v. 9 And when the head steward tasted the water that had become wine (he did not know where it came from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom
Literally:: Then, as (hōs de) he tasted (egeusato), the head steward the water having become wine (to hydōr oinon gegenēmenon), and he didn't know (ēdei) from where (pothen) it is, then the servants knew, those having drawn up the water, he calls the bridegroom (nymphion) the head steward,
||hōs de (Then, as)
The expression hōs de (hōs = as, when, while; de = then, but) is infrequent in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 3). Elsewhere in John, it is found in 6:12 in the scene where Jesus satisfies a great multitude (When they were filled...) and in 8:7 in the scene of the adulterous woman (As they kept on questioning him...). Again, as we noticed with the verb "to fill", we note the kinship between the wedding at Cana and the story of the feeding of the crowd, as if the same hand is the source of both stories. Another point is worth noting: the expression hōs de is pretty much absent from the New Testament, we said, except that it is found under the pen of Luke (Lk =1; Acts = 15). In the world of source criticism, John's independence from the Synoptics is recognized, but it is clear that not only did John and Luke have similar sources in hand (e.g., the miraculous fishing, Lk 5 and Jn 21), but they seem to have shared a cultural framework that sometimes explains a kinship of vocabulary (such as hōs de or such as that of the adulterous woman scene in Jn 8).
||egeusato (he tasted)
Geuomai (to taste) is a generic verb that is not very frequent in the gospels (Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 2). There are only two cases where it means to taste a liquid, here and in Matthew 27:34 when Jesus on the cross does not want to taste the gall he is given. Otherwise, it has the meaning of "to experience", as in the expression "shall not taste death" (Mt 16:28; Mk 9:1; 9:27; Jn 8:52). Only Luke stands out from the group with geuomai which is synonymous with "eat": Lk 14:24; Acts 10:10; 20:11; 23:14).
||to hydōr oinon gegenēmenon (the water having become wine)
It should be noted that there is no description of how the transformation of the water into wine occurred. It simply says that when the head steward tasted the water, it was now wine.
||he didn't know (ēdei) from where (pothen) it is, then the servants knew, those having drawn up the water
This bit of a sentence appears clearly enough as an incise or an afterthought, recapitulating what we already know and adding nothing to the narrative. In fact, it could be deleted without breaking the rhythm of the narrative: as he tasted, the head steward the water having become wine, (...) he calls the bridegroom the head steward. Moreover, the vocabulary of the incise is clearly Johannine, beginning with oida (to know: Mt = 26; Mk = 21; Lk = 26; Jn = 83), and then with pothen (from where, from what place, from what origin, how: Mt = 5; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 13). It is worth noting two scenes in John where pothen echoes what we have here: (Samaritan woman) Where (pothen) did you get it then, the living water? (4: 11); "Where (pothen) shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (6: 5). Thus, whether it is the wine, the water, or the bread offered by Jesus, the same question is asked: where does it come from?
The name nymphios (new husband, young bridegroom) does not seem significant at first glance (Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 4), but when we go through the gospels, we realize this: if we disregard the wedding at Cana for the moment, the bridegroom always refers to Jesus, except in Matthew's parable (25:1-10); in fact, Matthew and Luke simply repeat Mark when he writes: "Jesus said to them, 'Can the bridegroom's companions fast while the bridegroom (nymphios) is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom (nymphios) with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom (nymphios) will be taken away from them; and then they will fast in that day" (Mark 2:19-20). As for John, he has this phrase in the mouth of John the Baptist: "Whoever has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears it, is glad at the voice of the bridegroom. Such is my joy, and it is complete" (3: 29). Clearly, the bridegroom is Jesus. On a symbolic level, Jesus is clearly the bridegroom, the one who has reserved the best wine for now.
||v. 10 and said to him, "Every man serves the best wine first, and when people are drunk, the worst. You have waited until now to serve the best."
Literally:: and says to him, every man (anthrōpos) first (prōton) the good (kalon) wine puts (tithēsin), and when they might have been drunk (methysthōsin), the lesser (elassō); you, you have kept (tetērēkas) the good wine until now (arti).
When we examine John's use of anthrōpos
(man: Mt = 115; Mk = 56; Lk = 95; Jn = 59), we note that he does not really distinguish himself from the other evangelists and that mentions of the word can be grouped into three broad categories:
- (32 times) Man in the sense of that particular man, that male who can be designated: that man who was crippled, Nicodemus, the blind man, Jesus, etc.
- (14 times) Man in the expression: Son of man, which is addressed only to Jesus and refers to this mysterious figure of which the prophet Daniel speaks
- (13 times) Man who designates humanity in general, the world, which is different from God and sometimes opposed to him.
In v. 10, "every man" does not refer to any particular being, but to human beings in general and their habitual way of acting.
Prōton (first, which is before, in the first place, first of all: Mt = 9; Mk = 7; Lk = 10; Jn = 8) has in John the rather general meaning of "first". It is used to describe what is prior in a sequence of events or steps, or what was first in a series of events: after his encounter with Jesus, Andrew first goes to his brother Peter (1:41); before condemning someone, one must first hear him (7:51); John first baptized on the left bank of the Jordan (10:40); the disciples did not first understand Jesus' words, but understood him after his resurrection (12:16); the world first hated Jesus before it hated the disciples (15:18); Jesus wast first brought to Annas before being brought to Pilate (18:13); Nicodemus had previously met Jesus before he was present at his embalming (19:29). Thus, we understand that the best wine is usually served first at a meal.
Kalos (beautiful, good: Mt = 25; Mk = 17; Lk = 13; Jn = 11) appears in John in two different contexts: either to designate something or someone who is good (2:10: wine; 10:11,14: shepherd; 10:32-33: works), or in the expression "to speak rightly" (4:17; 8:48; 13:13; 18:23). Thus, in the story of the wedding at Cana, wine falls into the same category as the good shepherd that Jesus describes and the good works that he does. Note in passing that the expression "to speak rightly" (kalos legō) is a unique expression that John shares with Luke (see Lk 6:26; Lk 20:39), another clue that the two evangelists belong to a similar cultural universe.
||tithēsin (he puts)
(to put, to place, to lay down, to present, to propose: Mt = 5; Mk = 11; Lk = 15; Jn = 18) is a word that is used quite frequently in the 4th Gospel. The different meanings of this word can be grouped into four categories:
- To give / to lay down one's life (8 times): e.g., I lay down (tithēmi) my life for my sheep (see 10:11.15, 17-18; 13:37-38; 15:13)
- To deposit / put a body in a place (6 times): e.g., a new tomb, into which no one had yet been laid (tithēmi) (see 11:34; 19:41-42; 20:2.13.15)
- To put / place something or someone somewhere (2 times): e.g., Pilate also wrote a sign and had it put (tithēmi) on the cross (see 15: 16; 19: 19)
- To present/to offer/ to let go of something (2 times): e.g., Jesus got up from the table, took off (tithēmi) his robe, and taking a towel, he girded himself with it (2:10; 13:4)
In our scene in Cana, tithēmi falls into this fourth category: offering, letting go of one's best wine. It's the idea that you have something, and then you offer it or let it go. At his last meal, in order to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus has to give up something, his clothes (13: 4).
|Verb tithēmi in the Gospels-Acts|
||methysthōsin (they might have been drunk)
(to get drunk, to be drunk: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 1) is a very rare word not only in the gospels (here and in Lk 12:45), but also in the New Testament (1 Thess 5:7; Eph 5:18; Rev 17:2). In the New Testament, getting drunk has a negative moral connotation: in Luke's parable (12:45), getting drunk is the attitude of the unfaithful servant; Paul urges Christians not to get drunk (Ephesians 5:18), because drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). On the other hand, the picture that comes to us from the Old Testament is much more nuanced. In fact, the Septuagint passages with methyskō
can be grouped into three categories.
- A negative view of drunkenness: getting drunk leads to degrading attitudes, like Noah stripping himself naked inside his tent (Gen 9:21; see also 1 Samuel 1:14; Habakkuk 2:15)
- On the other hand, there are passages where getting drunk seems normal and appropriate, for example in the scene where Joseph receives his family in Egypt and fills them with food and wine, so that they get drunk (Gen 43:34; see also Song 5:1, which invites friends to drink and get drunk)
- Finally, and this is the majority of cases, the word is used in the symbolic sense to say: to water, fill, satiate, be drowsy or subjugated, e.g., the rain and snow come to saturate (methyskō) the land (Isaiah 55: 10), or the sword of the Lord becomes drunk (methyskō) with the blood of his enemies (Jeremiah 26:10), or Babylon in the hand of the Lord was a golden cup causing all the earth to be drunken (methyskō); the nations drank of her wine, therefore they were shaken (Jeremiah 28:7).
At the wedding in Cana, no moral judgment is made on the fact that the guests are drunk, but it is simply recognized that this is a usual phenomenon that must be taken into account in the choice of the wine offered.
Elassōn (smaller, lesser: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 1), the comparative of "little" is unique in the Gospels and exceptional in the entire New Testament. The meaning of small varies according to the object of comparison. For example, in speaking of Jacob, the younger, who took precedence over the elder Esau, Paul writes: the greater will serve the lesser (elassōn: Romans 9:12), which the Bibles translate as "The elder will serve the younger." In our scene at Cana, the word refers to a wine of lesser quality.
||tetērēkas (you have kept)
Tēreō (watch over someone, keep, preserve, observe, fulfill: Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 17) is a word that belongs in a special way to John. Of the 17 uses in him, 14 times the word means to keep the word or commandments of Jesus, e.g., "If anyone loves me, he will keep (tēreō) my word, and my Father will love him" (14:23), once it means to keep the Jewish laws (i.e., to keep the Sabbath, 9:16), and once it means to keep an object (when Jesus says that Mary kept this perfume for her burial, 12:7). Let's ask the question: what is the meaning of "keep" in our story? Of course, the first reaction is to put this word with the perfume of Mary who kept it for the burial of Jesus. But knowing that John's style is to use ordinary words to designate things on a second level, there is no doubt that the word "keep" is to be placed with the majority of his statements about the importance of keeping Jesus' word. In this sense, the wine refers to the very word of Jesus that we have waited until now to hear.
(at the present time, just now, now, at this time, today: Mt = 7; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 12) present the same pattern as tēreō
, while it belongs in a particular way to John, and otherwise used only by Matthew in the gospels. To better grasp its significance, we can group its presence in the 4th gospel into three categories.
- It is the present tense of Jesus' action, e.g., when he says, "My Father is at work until now (arti) and I too am at work" (5:17; see also 14:7)
- It is the present of the disciple before Jesus' resurrection, e.g., when Jesus says, "What I am doing you do not know now (arti); afterwards you will understand" (13:7; see also 13:19, 33, 37; 16:12, 24, 31)
- And there are some rare cases where it only serves to mark the sequence of events, e.g., when the blind-born man says, "I know only one thing: I was blind and now (arti) I see" (9:25; see also 9:18)
As with tēreō, one could see simply a first-level statement, i.e., a reference to the time when one has waited until now to offer the best wine. But, knowing that John is writing to be understood at a second level, we must understand arti as well as tēreō as referring to the ministry of Jesus' word that is now at work.
||v. 11 This was the beginning of the signs that Jesus performed in Cana in Galilee, making visible the extraordinary quality of his being, so his disciples believed in him.
Literally:: This did (epoiēsen) beginning (archēn) of the signs (sēmeiōn) the Jesus in Cana of the Galilee and he revealed (ephanerōsen) the glory (doxan) of him and believed in him the disciples (mathētai) of him.
||epoiēsen (he did)
(to do, to complete, to realize, to perform, to create, to render, to accomplish: Mt = 87; Mk = 45; Lk = 88; Jn = 108) is undoubtedly a very frequent verb in the gospels as a whole, but the 4th gospel nevertheless stands out by the extent of its use, i.e. appearing in more than one verse for every ten verses; it is an all-purpose verb. Statistically, let's say that there are three subjects of the verb "to do": Jesus (66 times), God (4 times), and different human beings (38 times). When Jesus is the subject of the verb, we can group these verses into seven categories.
- John very often (38 times) refers to Jesus' extraordinary actions, called signs or works or healings (2:23; 3:2; 4:45-46:54; 5:11:15-16:36, etc.). For example, if I do not do (poieō) the works of my Father, do not believe me (10: 37)
- The word refers to multiple and varied actions of Jesus (10 times), such as making himself a whip of rope, or making mud with saliva, or washing the feet of his disciples, or making disciples (2: 15.18; 4: 1; 9: 220.127.116.11; 13: 7.15; 18: 35). For example, when he said this, he spat on the ground, made (poieō) mud with his saliva, smeared the blind man's eyes with it (9: 6).
- The evangelist sometimes intends to express a general action of Jesus that is copied from that of God (6 times). For example, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do (poieō) as the Father has commanded me (14:31; see also 5:19: 30; 8:28-29).
- Sometimes, in the form of accusations by his opponents, Jesus would have made himself other than what he is (5 times), either God or king. For example, so the Jews only sought more to kill him, since, not content with violating the Sabbath, he still called God his own Father, making himself equal (poieō) to God (5:18; see also: 8:53; 10:33; 19:7.12).
- In John, Jesus speaks of doing the truth or doing judgment or doing God's will (4 times), e.g., but he who does (poieō) the truth comes to the light, so that it may be made manifest that his works are done in God (3:21; see 4:34; 5:27; 6:38).
- Jesus also speaks of doing whatever is asked of him in prayer (2 times), e.g., And whatever you ask in my name, I will do (poieō), that the Father may be glorified in the Son (14:13; see also 14:14).
- Finally, let us mention an action that Jesus will do with his Father: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make for ourselves (poieō) a dwelling with him (14:23).
John's frequent use of poieō reflects his somewhat spare, simple style, where ordinary words are used to describe profound spiritual realities. At the wedding in Cana, poieō is first found in the mouth of Jesus' mother (v. 5) to express her faith (Whatever he says to you, do it), and under the pen of the evangelist (So he did, v. 11) to designate one of Jesus' extraordinary actions, called signs, or works, a reflection of God's own action.
(beginning, principle, cause, commandment, authority: Mt = 4; Mk = 4; Lk = 3; Jn = 8) belongs to John's vocabulary. And he stands out from the other evangelists not only by the frequency of the word, but also by the unique meaning he gives it.
- Indeed, like Mark (1:1) and Luke (1:2), the beginning refers to the beginning of Jesus' ministry, e.g., From the beginning (archē) Jesus knew who those who did not believe were and who was the one who would betray him (6:24; see also 8:25; 15:27; 16:4).
- As Mark (10:6; 13:19), which Matthew (19:4.8; 24:21) repeats, the beginning refers to the beginning of creation as reflected in Genesis, e.g., You are of the devil, your father, and these are your father's desires that you want to fulfill. He was homicidal from the beginning (archē) (8:44)
- But what is unique about the 4th Gospel is the reference to the absolute beginning, to the very being of God, the foundation of existence, even before creation: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (1:1; see also 1:2).
In the Cana scene, archē is attached to sēmeion (sign), which places us at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
(sign, clue, mark: Mt = 13; Mk = 7; Lk =11; Jn = 17) is a common word in the gospels, as well as in the Old Testament under the Hebrew term ʾōt
. Let us begin by examining its presence in the synoptic gospels, before highlighting its particularity in John. It appears in four different contexts that color its meaning.
- In its most banal sense, sign refers to an agreed gesture to trigger an action or to a phenomenon that announces an event, somewhat the equivalent of signal: Or the traitor had given them this sign (sēmeion): "The one to whom I will give a kiss is he; stop him." (Mt 26:48); it is in this sense that we must also interpret the disciples' request for a sign about when the temple will be destroyed (Mk 13:4; Mt 24:3; 21:7)
- But most commonly, the word refers to ʾōt in the Old Testament (see, for example, Exodus 7:3: For me I will harden Pharaoh's heart and multiply my signs (ʾōt) and wonders in the land of Egypt) and is found on the lips of the opponents of Jesus who demand a sign that will accredit him as God's envoy; the word then has a very negative connotation, as it denotes the lack of faith of his audience, the rejection of his message, and Jesus refuses to comply: Wailing in his spirit, Jesus said, "What does this generation have to ask for a sign (sēmeion)? Truly, I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." (Mk 8:11-12; see also: Mt 12:38-29; 16:1.3-4; Lk 11:16.29-30; 23:8). Note that on a few rare occasions we also find this meaning in John: Jesus said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe!" (Jn 4:48; see also 2:18; 6:30). Statistically, we get this: Mt = 10; Mk = 4; Lk = 6; Jn = 3.
- On the other hand, the word sometimes describes a celestial phenomenon or a situation or even the very person of Jesus that have a symbolic value, expressing a message addressed to believers: then shall appear in heaven the sign (sēmeion) of the Son of man (Mt 24:30); note that it is especially in Luke that we see this usage, first in the infancy narratives (Lk 2:12 on the sign of a child in a manger and Lk 2:34 on the sign of contradiction that Jesus will be) and in apocalyptic scenes with great signs in heaven (Lk 21:11,25).
- Finally, there is this ending from Mark, added afterwards and probably not by the same hand, where sign refers to the extraordinary abilities of Christians on mission and revealing through their action the very work of God: And these are the signs that will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues (Mk 16:17; see also 16:20).
With this background, we understand the originality of John when he speaks of signs. First of all, the signs refer to the outstanding actions of Jesus, what we call miracles. But what is even more important is that, unlike the majority of references in the synoptic narratives where the word has a negative connotation, the word plays a positive role here and John summarizes it as follows: Jesus did many other signs (sēmeion) before the eyes of his disciples, which are not written in this book. These have been written down, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Jn 20:30-31). Thus, Jesus' performnce at Cana (2:1-11), the healing of the son of the royal officer of Capernaum (4:23-54), the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethzatha (5:1-18), the feeding of the crowd (6:1-15), (even if it can be placed in the group of Jesus' miracles, It is not clear that the walking on the sea (6:16-21) belongs to the group of signs), the healing of a man born blind (9:1-41) and the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44) constitute six signs (the seventh being his resurrection) that call for faith that Jesus is the one sent by God, his Son, the Christ. Sometimes the evangelist mentions this fact explicitly, as at Cana (his disciples believed in him, 2, 11), as at Capernaum (the royal officer believed, and so did all his household, 4: 53), on the shores of Lake Tiberias where he fed a large crowd, even if the faith is imperfect (this is truly the prophet, 6: 14), in Jerusalem with the blind man who was born (I believe, Lord, 9: 38), in Bethany with the raising of Lazarus (Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done believed in him, 11: 45). But ultimately, it is the faith of the reader of his gospel that John seeks (For a list of this word in John with the meaning spelled out here: 2: 11.23; 3: 2; 4: 54; 6: 2.14.26; 7: 31; 9: 16; 10: 41; 11: 47; 12: 18.37; 20: 30).
||ephanerōsen (he revealed)
(make visible, reveal, show with evidence, make known: Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 0; Jn = 9) is a clearly Johannine word. The fact that it appears three times in Mark is misleading, for there is only one instance that comes to us from the 2nd gospel (For there is nothing hidden that should not be disclosed (phaneroō) and nothing remained secret except to come to light
, Mk 4:22), for the other two instances belong to the appendix to the gospel, which comes from a source in the same milieu as the appendix to the 4th gospel:
- Mark 16:12: After this he showed himself in other guise to two of them who were on the way and were going into the country
- Mark 16:14: Finally he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table, and reproached them for their unbelief and obstinacy in not adding faith to those who had seen him raised.
- John 21:1: After this, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. And he showed himself in this way
- John 21:14: This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples, once he had risen from the dead
These five occurrences describe the experience of feeling the presence of the risen Jesus. Now, when we turn to what is specific to the 4th gospel, we can group the verses that refer to phaneroō into three groups:
- When the word is in Jesus' mouth, it always refers to God either in the form of his works (Nor did he nor his parents sin, but it was so that the works of God might be revealed in him, 9:3; see also 3:21), or in the form of his person himself (I have made known your name to men, whom you drew out of the world to give to me. They were yours and you gave them to me and they kept your word, 17:6); in other words, Jesus tried to make God known to humanity.
- When the word is in the mouths of others, it expresses the desire to make Jesus known either to Israel or to the world (but it was that he might be revealed to Israel that I came baptizing in water, 2:11; see also 7:4)
- Finally, the word under the pen of the evangelist at the wedding in Cana is unique, because it speaks of revealing the glory of Jesus, which means the quality of his being. Of course, the meaning is basically the same as the one above, i.e. to make Jesus known to Israel and to the world, but the vocabulary is particular: implicitly, this glory refers to a quality of being that he shares with his Father in heaven.
Thus, at Cana, by making wine from water, Jesus reveals something of God: the ability to transform our rule-bound lives into a great celebration full of meaning, life and joy.
(good opinion, honor, esteem, glory, brightness, splendor: Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 13; Jn = 19) really belongs to John's vocabulary. And if we add the verb doxazō
(glorify, give glory, transfigure, honor, boast, praise, celebrate: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 9; Jn = 14), we end up with something overwhelmingly Johannine. Etymologically, doxa
is derived from the verb dokeō
(to appear, to seem, to think, to be of opinion), and thus refers to a person's reputation, his fame. Moreover, the Septuagint used doxa
to translate the Hebrew kěbôd
, whose root means to have weight: indeed, someone who has weight refers to someone who has influence, who is "weighty", who is known and has a great reputation.
Let's start with the word doxa. Throughout the gospels, the word "glory" is given various meanings that can be grouped into five categories.
- The first category is on the purely human level. Glory refers to the state of wealth and power of certain humans. For example, it is one of the temptations Jesus must undergo: "Again the devil takes him with him to a very high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world with their glory (doxa)" (Mt 4:8; see also Mt 6:29; Lk 4:6; 12:27). Around the same theme, glory refers to a great reputation or importance, or to the great honors or unique value that some individuals receive from others: "How can you believe, you who receive your glory (doxa) from one another" (Jn 5:44; see also Lk 2:32; 14:10; Jn 5:41; 7:18; 8:50; 8:54; 12:43). Especially John and Luke propose scenes around this meaning: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 4; Jn = 9; Acts = 0.
- The glory reflects the divine milieu, especially his authority and power that allows it to play the role of judge. It is into this world that the risen Jesus enters, for example: "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (doxa)" (Mk 13:26; see also Mt 16:27; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; Mk 8:38; 10:37; Lk 9:26; 21:27; 24:26). This meaning appears only in the synoptic gospels in their evocation of the end times: Mt = 5; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0.
- In a few rare cases, and only in Luke, the glory reflects the divine environment, but without any connotation of authority or power, and under the symbolism of light, like the brilliance of a precious and mysterious stone through which a message is heard: "The Angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory (doxa) of the Lord enveloped them with its brightness; and they were seized with great fear" (Lk 2:9; see also 9:31). All this is seen especially in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 3.
- There is also the expression "to give glory to God" which means to acknowledge God's action and power, and to accept to put oneself under his authority. For example, "Glory (doxa) to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to men the objects of his pleasure!" (Lk 2:14); or, "So the Jews called the man who had been blind a second time and said to him, 'Give glory (doxa) to God! We ourselves know that this man is a sinner.'" (Jn 9:24; see also Lk 17:18; 19:38). This meaning is especially present in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 1.
- Finally, there is that meaning found only in John and introduced right in the prologue: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory (doxa), the glory (doxa), which he has from his Father as the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). It will have been noted that this glory is something that can be seen and contemplated, like someone's face or personality (see also 17:24). This glory reveals itself particularly at certain moments, like when Jesus is performing outstanding actions that are traditionally called miracles, as at Cana when water becomes wine (2:11) or at Bethany for the resuscitation of Lazarus (11:4,40). This glory Jesus received from his Father before the creation of the world (17:5) and, in turn, he gave it to his disciples (17:22) so that they might live in union with him and his Father. This glory will only be fully revealed when Jesus returns to his Father (17:24). Basically, this glory refers to the quality of being of Jesus, which is above all the very quality of being God because of his communion with him. So I like to translate glory as "the quality of being", a reality that can be seen, a reality that can be associated with love. Here are the statistics: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 8; Acts = 0.
Let us now turn to doxazō (glorify). Unsurprisingly, the use of the verb follows the same logic as the word.
- The synoptic gospels first use the verb "glorify" in the same sense as "give glory", i.e. to recognize God's action and power, and to accept to put oneself under his authority: "So must your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify (doxazō) your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16; see also 9:8; 15:31; Mk 2:12; Lk 2:20; 5:25-26; 7:16; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43; 23:47). It is especially Luke who emphasizes this meaning: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 8; Jn = 0; Acts = 4.
- Secondly, the verb is mostly used in the passive to express the human action of bestowing great reputation or honors on someone: "When therefore you give alms, do not go and trumpet it before you; so do the hypocrites, in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified (doxazō) by men; verily I say unto you, they have their reward already" (Mt 6:2; see also Lk 4:15; Jn 8:54a). This meaning is not very present: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Acts = 0.
- There is the case of the unique "glorify" in John (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 15; Acts = 0) which extends the meaning of glory as an expression of God's unique quality of being.
Only a few details emerge when we try to find out how the glorification takes place:
- The object of this glorification is sometimes God the Father (11:4; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1.4; 21:19), sometimes Jesus (8:54; 11:4; 12:3; 13:32; 16:14; 17:1.10).
- Similarly, the source of this glorification is sometimes God (8:54; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1), sometimes the Spirit (16:14), sometimes Jesus (17:4), sometimes an event such as the sickness of Lazarus (11:4) or, implicitly, death on the cross (12:23), sometimes a person like Peter (21:19).
To glorify becomes, in a way, synonymous with "to reveal" and is in line with what we have said about glory in John, which is a reality that is revealed and contemplated.
- the resurrection of Lazarus will reveal the quality of being of Jesus which will reflect on the quality of being of God (11, 4a);
- death freely accepted in love is the way for both Jesus and God to express their quality of being (13: 32), as it is for Peter to reveal who God is (21: 19);
- in answering the prayer of Christians, Jesus reveals who he is, and through him reveals who God is (14:13), just as the Spirit's role is to continue to reveal who Jesus is (16:14);
- Jesus revealed God through his works, such as all of his healing works (17:4);
- Finally, the communion of the disciples who have accepted the word of Jesus reveals the very communion between Jesus and his Father (17:10).
- Finally, there is the unique case found only in Acts (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 1) where “to glorify” means: to be raised, to be exalted, to enter the divine world: "The God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over to Pilate and denied, even though he was determined to release him" (3: 13).
Now let us return to our v. 11: he revealed his glory. The action of water becoming wine, the symbol of the feast and the wedding, reveals something of Jesus' quality of being, that of being able to transform a life marked by the ritual of religious laws into a life of communion with him, seen as the bridegroom, a life marked by joy, celebration, and the superabundance of life. And as we will learn later, this communion makes possible communion with God and with all humanity.
||episteusan (they believed)
(to believe: Mt = 11; Mk = 14; Lk = 9; Jn = 98) is a verb that brings us right into John's world. But let us begin with a brief analysis of how it appears in the synoptic narratives, for it seems to be used in all sorts of ways.
- First, there is trust in Jesus' ability to heal, and this faith is essential for Jesus to accomplish anything; it is a prerequisite before any miracle of Jesus: But Jesus, having overheard the word that had just been spoken, said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only have faith (Mk. 5:36; see also Mk 9:23-24; Mt 8:13; 9:28; Lk 8:50)
- The same essential faith in Jesus' ability to heal is applied to prayer as well: Therefore I say to you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have already received it, and it will be granted to you (11:24 || Mt 21:22; see also Mk 11:23)
- Sometimes one speaks of general faith in Jesus, without specifying its content: But if anyone should put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to have one of those millstones around his neck that donkeys turn and to be thrown into the sea (Mk 9:42, taken up by Mt 18:6). But sometimes one speaks of general faith in Jesus, but specifies its content this time, i.e. king of Israel, one is in a negative context of non-faith: He has saved others and he cannot save himself! He is king of Israel: let him come down now from the cross and we crucify in him (Mt 27:42 || Lk 22:67)
- The synoptics put John the Baptist on the same footing as Jesus in the requirement to believe, as shown in this passage from Mark, which refers to the origin of the Baptist's baptism: Or they reasoned with themselves, "If we say: From Heaven, he will say, Why then did you not believe in him (John the Baptist)?" (Mk 11:31 || Mt 21:25 || Lk 20:5; see also Mt 21:32)
- In contrast, sometimes Jesus invites people not to believe, i.e., false Christs: So if anyone says to you, Behold, the Christ is here, Behold, he is there, do not believe (Mk. 13:21 || Mt. 24:23; see also Mt. 24:26)
- Mark presents a call to faith that is quite unique to him, that of believing in the Gospel (The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel, 1:15)
- Luke introduces us to a new dimension of faith, that of believing in the word, either that of Scripture, or that of Jesus, or that of a messenger of God: And behold, you will be silenced and unable to speak until the day these things come to pass, because you have not believed in my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time (1:20; see also 1:45; 8:12-13; 24:25).
- Luke presents us with a case of faith applied to secular life, when trusting someone when giving responsibilities: If then you have not been faithful for the dishonest money, who will trust you with the true good? (16, 11)
- Finally, let us end with this appendix to Mark's gospel, which is not by the same author, where the notion of faith that will develop in the life of the Church appears, i.e. that of believing in the risen Jesus (He who will believe and be baptized ..., see Mk 16:14-17) and that of believing in the witnesses of the resurrection (And these returned to tell others, but they did not believed them, Mk 16:13)
What emerges from this study is that the verb pisteuō in the synoptic narratives has nothing technical about it, that it receives multiple meanings according to the different contexts in which it appears. In the general sense, it means: to trust in someone. This someone can be Jesus (his person, his word, his gospel), John the Baptist, God (in prayer or in Scripture). Only in Mark's appendix is there the beginning of a technical meaning where faith becomes faith in the risen Christ.
Let us now turn to the fourth gospel. Let us note at once aspects of faith in the Synoptics that disappear from John's gospel:
- There is no longer a call to believe that Jesus can perform a miracle; rather, faith comes after the miracle: Jesus said to him, "Go, your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him and went his way (4:50; see also our scene at Cana: This was the beginning of the signs that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee...his disciples believed in him; see also 2:23; 4:48; 6:30; 7:31; 11:15.45; 12:11; 14:11)
- There is no more faith in John the Baptist; he is only the instrument to bring people to believe in Jesus
- There is no longer a warning against faith in a false Christ
Faith is centered on the very person of Jesus, on his identity. To be more precise,
- To believe is to believe:
- That God sent him (6: 29; 11: 42; 17: 8.21)
- That Jesus is the Holy One of God (6: 69)
- That he is the Son of Man (9: 35)
- That the Father is in him and he is in the Father (10: 38; 14: 10)
- That he is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world (11: 27)
- That he is the One who is (13: 19)
- That he came out of God (16: 27.30)
There is therefore something just in the reproach of the Jews who accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God (5: 8; 10: 33)
- Faith in Jesus seems to have different levels of depth
- There is faith in Jesus as a prophet: A good many of the Samaritans of that city created in him because of the word of the woman, who testified, "He has told me all that I have done." , 4:39; this is a good start, but there is much more, as Jesus tells Nathanael: Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' you believe! You will see even better." (1: 50)
- A deeper faith sees him as the savior of the world: and they (the Samaritans) said to the woman, "It is no longer on your sayings that we believe; we ourselves have heard him and know that he is truly the savior of the world. " (4: 42)
- Then there is finally the recognition of Jesus' lordship: Then he (the blind man who was born after being healed) said, "I believe, Lord," and he bowed down to him (9:38); and there is especially this word of Thomas: My Lord and my God (20:28), to whom Jesus said, Because you see me, you believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed (20: 29)
- The act of believing or not believing is not neutral, it has consequences. The one who believes:
- Becomes a child of God (1: 12)
- Has eternal life (3: 15-16.36; 5: 24; 6: 40.47; 20: 31)
- Is not judged (3: 18; 5: 24)
- Will never be hungry or thirsty (6: 35)
- Will rise again on the last day (6: 40)
- Will receive the Spirit (7: 39)
- If he dies, he will live; he has passed from death to life (11: 25; 5: 24)
- Will never die (11: 26)
- Will see the glory of God (11: 40)
- Becomes a son of light (12: 36)
- Believe also in Him who sent him (12: 44)
- Do not remain in darkness (12: 46)
- Will do the same works as Jesus, and even greater ones (14: 12)
He who does not believe:
- Is already judged (3: 18)
- Shall not see life and the wrath of God is upon him (3: 36)
- Is guilty of a sin and will die in his sin (16: 8-9; 8: 24)
- The very fact that some believe and others do not creates a division, a separation, a schism (So there was a split in the crowd because of him, 7:43; And there was a split among them, 9:16; Again there was a split among the Jews because of these words, 10:19).
On the one hand, there are those who believe:
- His disciples believe in him (2:11)
- In Jerusalem many believed in him because of the signs he did (2: 23)
- A good number of Samaritans believe in him (4: 39)
- In the crowd that listened to him in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles, many believed in him (7: 31; 8: 30)
- The healed blind man believes in him (9: 38)
- Those who knew John the Baptist and his baptism believe in him (10: 40-42)
- Many Jews who witnessed the raising of Lazarus believe in him (11: 45)
- Some of the public figures believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not declare themselves for fear of being excluded from the synagogue (12: 42)
On the other hand, there are those who do not believe:
- The Jews who hear the discourse on the bread of life do not believe in him (6: 36)
- Judas does not believe in him (6: 64)
- His brothers do not believe in him (7: 5)
- The nobles and the Pharisees do not believe in him (7: 48)
- The Jews who heard him at the feast of the Dedication did not believe in him and even wanted to stone him (10: 25.31)
- The chief priests and the Pharisees were moved by the number of those who believed in him and resolved in council to kill him (11: 53)
- The crowd that heard him speak of the death of the Son of Man six days before the Passover did not believe in him (12: 37)
- For people to believe, certain conditions are necessary
- One must not seek the glory that comes from men, but that which comes from God (5: 44)
- One must believe in the Scriptures and in Moses (interpret them well), because they speak of Jesus (5: 45-47)
- One must be seekers of truth (8: 44-46)
- One must be of God (8: 47)
- One must be of the sheep that listen to his voice, because God has given them to Jesus (10: 26-29)
We understand, then, that in John the act of believing is not incidental, but constitutes the center of his gospel, the very reason for which it was written.
To conclude this analysis, let us take a brief look at related words, the noun "faith" (pistis: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 11; Jn = 0). It will come as a surprise that the word "faith" itself is absent from John: what interests him is the very action or decision to believe. In the synoptics, faith refers most of the time to the faith required to perform miracles (Mk 2:5; Mt 9:2; Lk 5:20; Mk 4:40; Lk 8:25; Mk 5:34; Mt 9:22; Lk 8:48; Mk 10:52; Lk 18:42; Mk 11:22; Mt 21:21; Mt 8:10; Lk 7:9; Mt 9:29; Mt 15:28; Mt 17:20; Lk 7:50; Lk 17:5-6. 19). The only exceptions are Matthew's call to the scribes and Pharisees to practice justice, mercy and "good faith" (Mt 23:23), and Luke's question whether Jesus will still find faith in prayer when he returns (Lk 18:8), and Jesus' promise to Peter that his faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).
(disciple: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78) is part of a vocabulary that John likes. But when we place his notion of discipleship against the background of the synoptic narratives, we notice some important differences. First, the list of those who constitute Jesus' disciples is less well defined. The Twelve are mentioned in the fourth gospel, of course, but only in the discourse on the bread of life (6:67.70-71) and in the appearance of the risen Jesus (20:24), and above all it does not give us anything specific about who is among them. It is worthwhile to compare the list of the Synoptics with the names found in John.
|John||John||James||(sons of Zebedee)|
|James||James||John||(sons of Zebedee)|
|James of Alphaeus||James of Alphaeus||James of Alphaeus|
|Simon the Zealot||Simon the Zealot||Simon the Zealot|
|Thaddeus||Thaddeus||Jude of James||Judas - not Iscariot|
|Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot||Judas Iscariot|
Thus, the fourth gospel knows Simon, Andrew, Philip, Thomas and Judas Iscariot. But James and John are never named, except as sons of Zebedee in the appendix to the gospel (21:2). Judas of James, mentioned by Luke, is probably the same as this Judas, not the Iscariot (14:22); and it is possible that this Judas joined the group of the Twelve after the departure or death of Thaddaeus. But Bartholomew, Matthew, James of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot are never named in the fourth gospel. On the other hand, it presents Nathanael as one of his disciples (1:45-49; 21:2), which the Synoptics totally ignore (for details on each of the Twelve, see Meier
). Finally, this strange disciple, who is never named except under the attribute "the one whom Jesus loved" or "the other disciple," who plays an important role at the end of Jesus' life and who is named for the first time at his last supper (13:23) is also totally ignored by the Synoptics (there is no way to identify him with John, one of Zebedee's sons, especially since he seems to come from Jerusalem where he has his entrances to the high priest's house).
Secondly, whoever says disciple, also says teacher. Now, there are some teachers in the 4th gospel. Let's name them:
- John the Baptist: Andrew is first his disciple before being a disciple of Jesus (1:35: and Philip is probably the second disciple); the Baptist's disciples remain active during Jesus' ministry (3:25)
- Moses: so say the Jews (but we are disciples of Moses, 9:28)
- Jesus: the latter seems to have been a disciple of John the Baptist before establishing his own group, perceived somewhat in competition with the Baptist, while continuing his baptismal action (4: 1-2)
Third, a cursory analysis of the notion of discipleship in John shows a somewhat nebulous group that evolves over time. Who are the disciples?
- Only Andrew, Philip, Simon and Nathanael are named among those who are explicitly called to follow him (1: 37-51)
- When the evangelist speaks of the disciples at the wedding in Cana, none are named (2: 1-11)
- We find them in Jerusalem, witnesses of the prophetic action of Jesus who drives the sellers out of the temple (2: 17)
- With Jesus, they baptize in the area that seems to be near the Jordan River, in Judea (4: 1-2)
- They are busy buying food in town when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and are surprised to see him alone with a woman (4: 8)
- They seem to be absent when Jesus heals the son of the royal official at Cana and when he heals the cripple at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (4: 43 5: 47)
- When Jesus climbed a mountain by the Sea of Galilee, near Bethsaida, at the time of the Passover feast, and fed a large crowd, the evangelist explicitly names Philip and Andrew (6:5-8)
- Later, the group of disciples experienced fear when they saw Jesus walking on the sea (6: 19)
- During the discourse on the bread of life near Capernaum, several disciples are scandalized by Jesus' words and leave him (6: 60-66)
- Then, the brothers of Jesus have this amazing phrase: Pass from here into Judea, that your disciples also may see the works that you do (7:3). This phrase suggests that Jesus has disciples in Judea, presumably in Jerusalem, who have not yet seen the signs or miracles he has done. What is clear is that for this Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus will go to Jerusalem alone.
- In a scene that seems to take place in the temple where Jesus was teaching, the evangelist mentions that some Jews believed in him and Jesus said to them, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples (8:31)
- In another scene that seems to take place in Jerusalem, his disciples ask him why the man they see is blind (9:2)
- The evangelist then takes us back in time to the festival of the Dedication, in winter, in Jerusalem, where the disciples are totally absent (10: 22)
- The disciples then reappear in a place that is not known, when Jesus learns of the illness of his friend Lazarus, who lives in Bethany, near Jerusalem; when Jesus decides to go there, they say to him, Rabbi, just recently the Jews were trying to stone you, and you are going back there! (11:8), when Thomas, called the Twin, the only one who is named, says to the other disciples, Let's go, we too, to die with him! (11:16)
- The resuscitation of Lazarus, and the faith in Jesus that it arouses in many people, leads to the decision of the Jewish authorities to kill him, so that Jesus must hide with his disciples in the town of Ephraim (11: 54)
- However, Jesus goes to Bethany six days before the Passover, and it is at this moment that Judas Iscariot enters the scene, who is scandalized by Mary's gesture of pouring a very expensive perfume on Jesus; the evangelist tells us that Judas is the treasurer of the group of disciples and that he was not shy about stealing (12: 4)
- The next day, the disciples are there during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (12: 16) and the evangelist explicitly names Andrew and Philip when Greeks want to see Jesus (12: 22)
- Just before the Passover feast, Jesus has a last meal with his disciples during which he washes their feet. During this meal, no one is named except Simon Peter who does not want his feet washed (13:6), the disciple whom Jesus loved who appears for the first time (13:23), Judas Iscariot whose betrayal Jesus announces (13:26), Thomas who questions Jesus about the path he intends to take (14:5), Philip who asks to be shown the Father (14:8) and Judas, not Iscariot, who wonders why Jesus shows himself to them and not to the world (14:22).
- After this meal, Jesus goes with his disciples to the other side of the Kidron (18:1) where Judas, who had left the others in the middle of the meal, will come with a cohort and guards detached by the chief priests and the Pharisees (18:3).
- It is the beloved disciple who allows Peter to enter the court of the high priest, where he will deny knowing Jesus (18: 16)
- When the high priest questions Jesus, he will ask about his disciples and his doctrine (18: 19)
- At the cross, the evangelist presents us with this scene where the beloved disciple becomes with Jesus' mother the foundation of the Church (19: 27)
- At the burial, Joseph of Arimathea is presented as a disciple of Jesus (19: 38)
- At the empty tomb, the disciple, called "the other disciple", sees and believes (20: 18)
- Finally, on the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples are gathered and experience the resurrected Jesus (20: 19-20)
Thus, the word "disciple" can refer both to a small group of disciples, some of whose names are mentioned only sporadically, or to a much larger group of those who receive the word (for an overview of the various circles of disciples, see Meier). And his disciples do not constantly accompany him.
Let's go back to our verse, "his disciples believed in him." One imagines that these disciples were part of the select group that would often walk with him. These disciples were open to what this transformation of the ablution ritual into a communion with God through the being of Jesus would reveal. Let us not forget: it is by discovering the quality of Jesus' being, called glory, that they believed.
- Analysis of the narrative's structure
- The original source
Like all gospel stories, the wedding at Cana has probably evolved. Very often, an author has used a source that he modifies according to his theology and his catechetical purpose. Here is what the biblical scholar M. E. Boismard proposes (Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean: Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 101) for this account of the wedding at Cana. The earliest layer, which he calls Document C and which constituted a fairly complete gospel, began with the activity of John the Baptist and his testimony and ended with the death and burial of Jesus, as well as the appearance accounts. This document would have been written in Palestine and was strongly influenced by Samaritan thought (many scenes take place in Samaria: the baptism of John the Baptist, the call of Philip and Nathanel as well as the encounter with the Samaritan woman). Here is the story of the wedding at Cana as it appeared in this document C according to Boismard's hypothesis.
- The story
1 And () there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee
2 and Jesus was invited to the wedding and his mother was there and his brothers.
3a And they had no more wine because the wedding wine had run out,
6 Now there were there () stone jars () each containing two or three measures.
7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water. And they filled them to the brim.
8 And he said to them, "Draw now." (They drew)
9 (and) the water (had) become wine!
11 This first sign made Jesus in Cana of Galilee ().
- Its structure
Introduction: setting the scene
- Event: wedding
- Location: Cana of Galilee
- Characters: Jesus, his mother and his brothers
Event: a lack
- There is no more wine, because the wine ran out
Intervention of Jesus
- Jesus asks to fill with water the stone jars that are on the spot
- Then he asks to draw water turned into wine
Narrator's comment: significance of Jesus' action
- Its meaning
Such a bare-bones account emphasizes the thaumaturgical power of Jesus. On the one hand, it presents Jesus as a competitor to Dionysios, the god of wine whose feast was celebrated on January 6. In fact, during his feast day, the fountains of his temple in Andros and Theos were known to flow wine instead of the usual water. In Elis, on the eve of the festival, three empty jars were placed in the temple, and the next morning they were found full of wine. The Christian liturgy wanted to celebrate the wedding of Cana on January 6th.
On the other hand, this bare narrative draws a parallel between Jesus and Moses. According to Exodus 4:1-9, God asks Moses to perform three signs to prove that he is his messenger, the third of which uses a similar symbolism at Cana: Moses will take water from the river and pour it on the land, and then the water will become blood; recall that in Jewish tradition the symbolism of blood and wine are very much linked (Genesis 49:11). Thus, Jesus appears as the new Moses, a recurring theme in Document C.
- The version modified by the main author of the gospel
Document C was modified by an author whom Boismard calls John II. In fact, John II presents us with two editions of his gospel (A and B). A first edition (A) is offered while he was living in Palestine. Then, after having moved to Asia Minor, probably Ephesus, he proposes a new edition of his gospel (B), introducing among other things the framework of the Jewish feasts, and above all the Jewish opposition, a reflection no doubt of his new living environment.
- The story
|Document C|||John II-A|||John II-B
| || ||The third day,|
|there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee,|
|2 and Jesus was invited to the wedding and his mother was there and his brothers.|
|3a And they had no more wine because the wedding wine had run out,|
|3b|| ||Then the mother of Jesus said to him:|
| || ||"They are out of wine."|
| || ||And Jesus said to her,|
| || ||"What do you want from me, woman? Has my time not yet come?"|
| || ||His mother said to the servants,|
| || ||"Whatever he tells you, do it."|
|6 Now there was |
| || ||six|
| || ||intended for the purification of the Jews,|
|each containing two or three measures.|
|7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them to the brim.|
|8 And he said to them, "Draw now." |
| ||And bring to the head steward."|
|9||They carried them,|
| ||When the head steward had tasted|
|(and) the water (had) become wine!|
| || ||And he did not know where it came from, while the servants knew, who had drawn the water, the head steward|
|10||(he) calls the groom and says to him: "Every man offers first the good end and, when drunk, the less good.|
| ||You have kept the good wine until now."|
|11 This first sign made Jesus in Cana of Galilee.|
| ||And he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him.|
- Its structure
- Event: wedding
- Location: Cana of Galilee
- Time: 3rd day
- Characters: Jesus, his mother and his brothers
Event: a lack
- There is no more wine, because the wine ran out
Intervention of the mother of Jesus
- She informs Jesus of the lack
- Jesus rejects his request with the reason that his time has not come
- Mary expresses her faith and asks to listen to the word of her son
Intervention of Jesus
- The frame is that of six jars for Jewish ritual ablutions
- Jesus asks to fill with water the stone jars that are on the spot
- Then he asks to draw water turned into wine
- He asks to bring the wine to the head steward
- Doing what Jesus asks
- Comment of the narrator on the ignorance of the head steward and knowledge of the servants
Comment from the head steward to the groom
- The head steward recalls the usual way of doing things
- He says that he has done the opposite: it is now the best wine
Narrator's comment: significance of Jesus' action
- This was his first sign
- Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples
- They believed in him
- Its meaning
John II-A introduces three new characters in the course of the story: the head steward, the bridegroom and the disciples, as well as a new theme: that of the best wine that is only now being offered. In doing so, he shifts the focus from Jesus the miracle worker to Jesus the source of all wisdom, finally revealing the true God. Indeed, the theme of wine as a symbol of wisdom is well known in the Old Testament: Come, eat of my bread, drink of the wine that I have prepared! Leave foolishness and you will live; walk uprightly in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:5-6) (See Philo of Alexandria who speaks that symbolizes the teaching given by a Word of God, Leg. Alleg. 3, 82). Similarly, the fact that the groom has reserved the best wine for now leads us to associate Jesus with this groom who truly offers us the best wine. Thus, Jesus reveals his quality of being at Cana, and thereby reveals something of God, and this triggers the disciples to join him.
John II-B first accentuates the contrast with Judaism by making the jars the incompletion of the word of God through the six jars that were used for Jewish ritual ablutions. This contrast will be accentuated with the fact that Jesus offers the best wine, and that this best is only offered now. Then, he expands the faith dimension of the scene with the figure of Jesus' mother, whom he will present as the mother of believers at the crucifixion. After a refusal, she asks the servants to listen to his word. Later, by adding the comment about the servants who had seen everything, he introduces testimony that supports faith. Finally, he makes a clearer link between this new wine and his death on the cross: the scene takes place on the third day and Jesus makes it clear that his intervention is linked to his hour.
- Context analysis
- Immediate Context (1: 19 2: 11)
As we have already noted, the evangelist presents us with the first events of Jesus' ministry over the course of a week.
- Day 1 (1: 19-28): Testimony of John the Baptist
- Day 2 (1: 29-34): "next day": allusion in a very implicit way to the baptism of Jesus
- Day 3 (1: 35-39): "next day": two disciples of the Baptist follow Jesus
- Day 4 (1: 40-42): Even though the word tomorrow is not mentioned, we must assume a different day because verse 39 ends with "and they stayed with him that day". It was about the tenth hour (4 p.m.)", whereas it is the beginning of the evening. On this fourth day, the middle or center of the week, we are presented with the story of Simon's call.
- Day 5 (1: 43-51): "next day": is the story of Nathanael's vocation.
- Day 7 (2: 1-11): "the third day", i.e. two days after day five: this is the wedding at Cana. The mention of the third day is certainly an allusion to the third day of Christ's resurrection: for the wedding at Cana ends with the mention that he "revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him". This summarizes in one week the ministry of Jesus which ends with his ascension into glory.
Since the evangelist began his gospel with the expression "In the beginning" (1:1), and thus with an allusion to Genesis and the creation of the world in a week, by spreading Jesus' ministry over a week he intends to proclaim that in Jesus a new creation takes place, a creation that reaches its climax with his resurrection.
- General Context (the whole of the gospel)
This general context is the whole gospel. It is not easy to find structure in it. Someone like R.E. Brown (The Gospel According to John. New York: Doubleday (Anchor Bible, 29), 1966-1970, 2 v.) divides the gospel thus: Prologue (1: 1-18), the book of signs (1: 19 12: 50), the book of glory (13: 1 20: 31) which includes the last supper, the passion narrative, the risen Lord which ends with a conclusion (20: 30-31), and an epilogue (21: 1-25: the miraculous catch). For his part, Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean: Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 80) proposes a division into eight units (1: 19 20: 1-31), preceded by the Prologue and ending with a conclusion (21: 1-14). We propose an integration of these two structures.
Prologue: 1: 1-18
Book of the signs of Jesus (1: 19 12: 50)
Sign 1 (1: 19 - 2: 12): Cana
- First week in the Jordan Valley: John the Baptist identifies the Lamb of God and the first disciples join Jesus
- The wine of the wedding at Cana is a sign of new times
Sign 2 (2: 13 4: 54): healing of a child in Capernaum
- The Passover of the Jews
- In Jerusalem: the sellers chased from the temple and interview with Nicodemus
- In Samaria: interview with the Samaritan woman
- In Galilee: healing of a child
Sign 3 (5: 1-47): healing of a paralyzed person
- In Jerusalem: healing of a paralyzed man at the Sheep Gate pool
Sign 4 (6: 1-71): feeding of the crowd
- Second Passover of the Jews
- In Galilee: feeding of the crowd
- Walk on the sea
- Speech on the bread of life
Sign 5 (7: 1 10: 21): healing of the blind man
- Booths festival
- In Jerusalem, at the temple to teach
- Healing of the blind child
- Jesus proclaims himself the good shepherd able to guide his flock
Sign 6 (10: 22 11: 57): resuscitation of Lazarus
- Dedication Festival
- In Jerusalem, then at the Jordan River, and finally in Bethany
- Resuscitation of Lazarus
Transition to the passion narrative (12: 1-50)
- Six days before the Jewish Passover
- In Bethany, anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary
- The next day, triumphal entry into Jerusalem
- Greeks want to see him, and speech on the grain that must die
Book of the glory of Jesus
Last meal (13: 1 17: 26)
The passion narrative (18: 1 19: 42)
The Risen Lord or 7th sign (20: 1-31)
Epilogue (21: 1- 25)
The wedding at Cana is the first of the signs of Jesus that will culminate in his resurrection. This first sign takes place at the end of Jesus' first week, and if we refer to the week of creation as told in Genesis, it becomes the sign of a new creation, better than the first. But the fact that this new creation is linked to "his hour", and therefore to his elevation on the cross, shows the price to be paid for it to come.
There is really no parallel with the synoptic accounts. Of course, there are scenes in Luke of Jesus having a meal in the home (see Lk 7:36; 14:1), but there is nothing like the wedding at Cana. And the allusions to the wedding in the Synoptics belong to the parables.
Nevertheless, we can draw a parallel with two Old Testament stories that belong to the cycle of Elijah and Elisha using a common structure.
|Structure||John 2||1 Kings 17||2 Kings 4|
|Setting||1 And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When they ran out of wine,||10 Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the city, there was a widow there gathering wood;||(38 Elisha returned to Gilgal...) 42 A man came from Baal-shalishah and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh grain in its ear.|
|Request||the mother addressed Jesus and said, "They have no more wine."||He called out to her and said, "Bring me some water in the pitcher, that I may drink!"11 As she went to fetch it, he called out to her, "Bring me a piece of bread in your hand!"||This one (Elisha) commanded, "Offer it to the people and let them eat,|
|Objection||4 But Jesus answered her, "Madam, why do you tell me this? My hour has not yet come."||12 She answered, "By the living LORD your God, I have no bread baked; I have only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a pitcher; I am gathering two pieces of wood; I will prepare this for myself and my son, and we shall eat and die." 13 But Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid, go and do as you say; only prepare a little cake for me first, and bring it to me; then you shall make some for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD God of Israel, "The jar of flour shall not be exhausted, nor the pitcher of oil emptied, until the day the LORD sends rain upon the face of the earth."||43 But his servant answered, "How shall I serve this to a hundred people?" He said again, "Offer it to the people and let them eat, for thus has Yahweh said, 'We will eat and have some left over."|
|Expression of faith||His mother said to the waiters, "Whatever he tells you, do it."||15 She went and did as Elijah had said, and they ate, she and he and his son.||He served them,|
|Result||6 There were six stone jars there, which had been set up for the purification of the Jews, each containing two or three forty-litre measures. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water. And they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he said to them, "Now draw water and take it to the head servant. And they brought it to him. 9 When the head waiter tasted the water that had become wine - he did not know where it came from, but the waiters who had drawn the water knew - he called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Every man serves the best wine first, and when people are drunk, the worst. You have waited until now to serve the best. 11 This was the beginning of the signs that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee, he made visible the extraordinary quality of his being, so his disciples believed in him.||16 The jar of flour was not exhausted and the jug of oil was not emptied, according to the word that Yahweh had spoken through the ministry of Elijah.||44 they ate and had some left over, according to the word of Yahweh.|
- The situation presented involves a prophet and another main character. In Cana it is Jesus and his mother. In Zarephath, it is Elijah and a widow. In Gilgal, it is Elisha and his servant.
- The request is related to drink or food. At Cana, it is Jesus' mother who announces that there is no more wine. In Zarephath, it is Elijah who asks the widow to bring him bread. In Gilgal, it is Elisha who asks to offer the people twenty loaves of barley and fresh grain in its ear that a man from Baal-Shalisha has brought.
- The objection made varies. At Cana, it is Jesus himself who objects that his hour has not come. In Zarephath, it is the widow who objects that she has no bread, and that the flour and oil she has will not even be enough to feed her and her son. In Gilgal, it is the servant of the prophet who objects that the food on hand is insufficient to feed a hundred people.
- There are also differences in the act of faith. The mother of Jesus does not need to be challenged in her faith, and it is she who sets the stage for what her son will do. In Zarephath, the widow must first receive support from the prophet who proclaims that God will see to it that she lacks nothing. The same thing happens in Gilgal with the servant.
- Finally, the outcome differs in the three accounts. In Cana, the emphasis is on the quality of the liquid that is better than anything else. In Zarephath, it is abundance in the form of flour and oil that does not run out. In Gilgal, it is also abundance in the form of the quantity of food that goes beyond the need.
- What to conclude? The parallel exists only at the level of a general structure, and not in detail. Nevertheless, we are in front of a human need that the man of God comes to fill beyond all hope. Without this felt and lived need, there would have been no intervention of the man of God. And when God intervenes, it is in a different way than we expected: there is always an overabundance on the part of God. However, all this requires openness to total faith in God. Note that at the wedding in Cana, unlike the other two stories, there is no direct call to believe: Jesus' mother is already a believer, and her request to the servants seems more an expression of authority than a call to believe. So, it is the result that will arouse the faith of the disciples.
- Intention of the author when writing this passage
Let us place ourselves from the point of view of the principal author of the fourth gospel, the one whom Boismard calls John II-A and John II-B, who is said to have lived first in Palestine (A), and then to have settled in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus (B).
When he begins to write his gospel, he has a number of small stories that circulated in missionary circles that sought to catechize the first Christians. The story of the wedding at Cana, in an abbreviated version, perhaps as Boismard has tried to reconstruct it and as we have presented in the analysis of its structure, was undoubtedly one of them. At the origin, there is perhaps the memory that Jesus participated with his family in typical events of village life in Galilee, such as a wedding. But let us remember that the first Christians tried to read again the events surrounding Jesus through the filter of the Old Testament: what interested them was not the reconstruction of what happened, but their meaning, and above all to answer the question: who is Jesus really? Now, certain passages in the Bible colored this scene of a feast in a village of Cana: the figure of Elijah who fills the scarcity of a widow in Zarephath with the abundance that God offers (1 Kings 17). And there were all those images of feasting and wine, as in Isaiah, associated with the coming of God to bring his salvation (Isaiah 25), or as in Proverbs where wine is associated with the wisdom of God to which we drink (Proverb 9). Jesus is this new Elijah who has come to drink of God's wisdom and bring the feast of salvation that surpasses all our expectations.
It is this account that John modifies by infusing it with his own theology. At first, he insists on making it a story that should lead to faith in Jesus. He also introduces the presence of the disciples to whom the story is addressed. Then, he adds this scene around the head steward who must taste the liquid to make sure that it is indeed wine, and not water. To help the reader understand the content of this faith to which he invites him, he evokes the image of the bridegroom who, almost everywhere in the gospels, is associated with Jesus: in Jesus this great reconciliation with God is realized, a sort of wedding. This is a totally new reality, which only now appears with Jesus. And in this Jesus reveals the extraordinary quality of his being. This is what the disciples believed and what Christians are called to believe.
In a second phase, much later, John produced a new version of his gospel when his community had to face the growing hostility of the Jews. He puts more emphasis on the cross and on the figure who is the model of the believer, his mother whom Jesus entrusted to the beloved disciple. This new wine is conditional on the hour of the cross, and is only accessible through faith. And it comes to replace Judaism and all its orthopraxis which is becoming obsolete, as the destruction of the temple will soon be announced. For basically, Jesus introduces a new creation, at the end of a week that is more important than the first week of Genesis. John also reinforces the witness value of this story by having servants who can confirm that before it was water, now it is wine.
Thus, for John, the death and resurrection of Jesus introduce a totally new reality and reveal to the world the extraordinary quality of the one with whom the very face of God is identified. In him the marriage between humanity and its God has become possible, and life, in spite of all the suffering and death, can become a never-ending feast, a feast where we drink in the wisdom of God, a feast where mutual service is done in love. As we see, starting from a banal village scene, John introduces us to a theological world. He no longer speaks to us of the past, but of the present of his community.
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
- Suggestions from the different symbols in the story
The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.
- This story is so rich in symbols that we are spoilt for choice. Let's start with the wedding. It is a moment of celebration, the celebration of love between two beings, the celebration of one of the key moments of life. Family and friends are brought together, resulting in a time of exchange and sharing. Time is suspended, as if everyone has left their usual activities. Doesn't this say something essential about the meaning of life and the face of God? Do we not aspire to a world where celebration and joy are continuous?
- What is the difference between water and wine? Water is essential to life, but wine brings that extra something that gives life its flavor. It symbolizes celebration and festivity. It brings an extra quality. It is associated with pleasure. But isn't wine at the heart of the Christian life when it is an integral part of the Eucharistic celebration? What does it reveal about God and the meaning of life? Doesn't the fact that Jesus took wine, and even that an account has been preserved in which he fills a wine shortage, say something about the Christian life?
- The story features a woman, the mother of Jesus. This woman plays a key role, because without her there would not have been this wonderful wine. So we can say that this new wine is the work of both a man and a woman. Doesn't all this challenge our reductive approach to the role not only of gender in the march of the world and the Church, but also of age, culture and race? The best wine will not come without the participation of all.
- "My time has not yet come". It is, of course, a reminder of the price of the feast, of a love that accepts to suffer hatred and violence even in death, in the faith that love will overcome and live forever. But it is also a reminder that there is a time for everything, and that it is impossible to rush things. All gestation takes time. You don't become an adult overnight. Some people talk about the failure of the "Arab Spring". But they forget that it took 22 years to achieve the unification of Germany. When we say that the time has not come, we proclaim at the same time that it will come, if you have faith. Doesn't this put into question our impatience?
- "He made visible the extraordinary quality of his being (his glory)". The word glory is misleading, because it is usually associated with the great stars of the arts and politics, those who enjoy a great reputation and are very well known. Because here we are talking about making visible what is invisible. Let's not delude ourselves: the profound reality of Jesus was invisible to most people in his time, a bit like Don Bosco who was lodged in the attic of a presbytery during a stay in France, because, as a priest would say later, they didn't know he was a saint. Indeed, it is impossible to perceive the mystery of a person and to commune with what he or she is, if one does not first have within oneself this sensitivity to the same mystery. This extraordinary quality of Jesus can only be perceived after an extended evolution of oneself. Doesn't this lay out a plan for life?
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:
- At the moment, it is the issue of Syrian refugees that is attracting attention. Some borders are opening up to welcome them, like Germany, which wants to take in 800,000, or Canada, which wants to take in 25,000; others are closing. Doesn't the story of the wedding feast at Cana have any relevance to this human drama? Are not the Syrians also invited to this feast where we celebrate the renewed relationship between God and humanity? Can they not become the wine that gives flavor to our lives?
- Radical Islamism is still going strong? In the United States, in Philadelphia, a man shoots a policeman in the name of Allah, in Egypt European tourists are stabbed in a seaside resort by people carrying the flag of the Islamic State. What a contrast between this sectarian blindness and this moment of celebration in Cana. In such a context, isn't John's account important to keep us anchored in the truth of the things revealed by Jesus?
- A young mother feels exhausted caring for her struggling five-year-old child, while she herself experiences health problems and the stress of a demanding job. Can the message of a story like Cana's help her? What exactly? Through the pain of the work and the days, aren't we preparing for that feast that will come when time is ripe, if we believe in it at all?
- The Catholic Church is torn between those who want more acceptance of new realities and those who stubbornly defend what they call tradition. The recent synod on the family at the Vatican bears witness to this tension. What would a deeper understanding of the story of the wedding at Cana bring to the debate? Wouldn't what is new appear to be the best wine that is only now being presented?
- The population in the developed world is aging. Medicine is able to extend people's lives by many years. At the same time, the quality of life for some is getting poorer. Alzheimer's disease is spreading. There is a lot of boredom and loneliness. How can such a situation be put together with the story of the wedding at Cana? But doesn't the gospel text open us up to another way of looking at life?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2016