By Pamela A. Lewis
Reading from the Gospel of John, 2:1-12
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.
The 1987 film, Babette’s Feast, based on a short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen, tells of a French servant to two elderly sisters who prepares a grand dinner for the small, ascetic Lutheran community in Denmark among whom she lives. At the start of the banquet, an Amontillado, a fine and costly wine, is served. When a general, an honored guest at the dinner, tastes the wine, he recognizes it immediately and is amazed, both at its quality and at the fact that it is being served in such humble surroundings. As the diners drink the wine throughout the meal, they become not so much inebriated as transformed: they forgive old trespasses, express gratitude for life’s blessings, and sense a spring of life welling up over their spiritual dryness.
Rather than some clever parlor trick to astound the wedding guests, Jesus’ first miracle of changing the water into wine (considered to be the first “sign” of his glory) is an act of transformation. Empty pots are filled to the brim with ordinary water which is elevated to the extraordinary, becoming a wine so superior in quality that the host is stunned.
However, this miracle is about more than excellent wine. It points beyond itself to Jesus, the one who transforms, restores, and renews. This miracle sets us on the road of witness to all of the miracles that will follow, through which Jesus’ full identity will be revealed and manifested.
When we reflect deeply on this story, we will see ourselves as both the guests and the ones needing transformation, as did the guests at Babette’s feast. We will all have “empty jar” moments in our lives, which will need to be refilled to the brim and then changed — by God’s grace — into something of superior quality.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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