If there is one miracle of Jesus that, today, almost everyone seems able to recall, it is Jesus turning water into wine. Perhaps it is because this is the first miracle encountered in John’s account, or perhaps it is because it is rich in symbolism, however, I have a hunch it is because this miracle contains several ingredients with which we are all familiar — a full on party, a bunch of tipsy guests, and an abundance of delicious red wine. And given the price of red wine on an expensive island, who of us has not imagined how useful it would be to be able to turn the stuff in our rainwater tanks into a decent Zinfandel? Perhaps, too, it jars with the sombre, holier-than-holier, sanctimonious, disconnected Jesus portrayed in formal sermons or strict Sunday school classes. The miracle, somehow, feels a little rebellious, with Jesus, providing wine to a crowd that has already exhausted the existing supply. Surely they did not need any more? Surely they had drunk enough?
Have you watched the movie Shrek? One of my favourite scenes is where Donkey and Shrek are in an onion field and Shrek explains that Ogres are like onions…
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey : Example?
Shrek : Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
Donkey : They stink?
Shrek : Yes… No!
Donkey : Oh, they make you cry?
Shrek : No!
Donkey : Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek : NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Well, in the same way, the miracles of Jesus in John’s gospel have layers, and the miracle of turning water into wine is no exception. The miracle, itself, is an astounding act, showing that Jesus, with authority from the Father, has power over creation, however, every aspect of the description of the miracle points to what Jesus came to do and what he would achieve. There are layers of symbolism and understanding that can be uncovered, so, whether you are familiar with the story or not, let me point out some details that, when considered all together, give the miracle its incredible meaning.
Firstly, the whole miracle takes place in the context of a wedding, and marriage is used as a metaphor throughout the history of God’s people for how we will all be united to God – with God being the groom and us his bride.
Secondly, the miracle takes place on the ‘third day’ and, if you know your Easter story, Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Coincidence?
Thirdly, Jesus does not use drinking water. He uses water stored in stone jars used for ceremonial cleansing. This is water in which people would wash themselves to make themselves clean and holy before God. This is significant because Jesus makes us clean and holy through his life, death, and resurrection.
Fourthly, wine is the colour of blood. Christians assert that it is through Jesus’ death that we are made clean and holy. Jesus would go on to tell us to remember him by drinking wine that would represent his blood, freely given for the forgiveness of sins.
Fifthly, the wine turns out to be the best wine ever — better than any human wine. In the same way, what could not be achieved through human effort — in terms of the reconciling of humanity with God — is achieved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And, finally, there is way more than enough wine for everyone. It is what we call superabundance. Jesus produced the equivalent of over 1000 bottles of wine — enough for the wedding party, the guests, and the whole village!
Jesus turning water into wine was not simply a random performance. It was a carefully choreographed occasion, a sign or pointer, a foretaste of the greatest event that the world would ever see. The whole miracle serves as a metaphor for what Jesus came to do, by giving his life so that we could be made holy and be reconciled to God.
But…the story is also a very human story. It is the story of people making a social faux pas, and the shame of running out of wine at a special celebration. Jesus, in his humanity and compassion, steps in to save the day, literally turning the water of their disappointment, panic, and embarrassment, into the wine of hope, relief, and celebration. And do I think Jesus had a smile on his face? Oh, yes!
So, next time you are walking down the supermarket aisle, and you spot either the bottled water or the wine on the shelves, perhaps you can stop, smile to yourself, and remember that, through Jesus, God provides hope for the whole world; his forgiveness, his compassion, his superabundance — for everyone — and also for you.