Following the visit of the Gentile Magi and the Baptism in the Jordan River, the miracle at the Cana marriage feast is the third manifestation of the God-Man in the Church's liturgical celebration. To many commentators, this miracle seems to be almost unique, in that it does not serve any critical human need. In other miracles, Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead. But this miracle merely saved an ordinary family from social embarrassment. Is this situation, with no-one sick, hungry, or dead, too prosaic to warrant Divine intervention? Recalling a wedding in my own experience when the caterer almost failed to appear, surely the Cana wine shortage cried out for God's help. No human need is beneath God's compassionate attention.
As St. John relates the event, the miracle seems almost like a parable in the constellation of symbols. The wedding itself recalls God's marriage covenant to Israel and Our Saviour's taking the Church for His bride. The transformation of water into wine reminds us of the Old Testament, with its types and shadows, giving place to the New Testament, in which the Word is made flesh. From another perspective it symbolizes sinners' being made into saints. Even the number of water-jars seems significant: six (as in the Days of Creation) frequently bespeaks incompleteness, just falling short of the mystical seven. And the presence of the Blessed Mother (not seen again in John until she stands at the foot of the Cross) is not without great importance. Both times Jesus addressed her as “Woman,” echoing Gen. 3:15, naming her as the New Eve, “mother of all living.”
At bottom, this episode is important because John tells us this was “the beginning of miracles.” The first half of the fourth Gospel is organized around an ascending series of seven (that number again!) miracles. These form a crescendo of intensity and power, with the climax in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. John takes us from the gift of new and better wine to the restoration of life to a stinking corpse (his symbol for lost sinners). The eighth miracle, of course, is the resurrection of Jesus Himself, inaugurating the new creation.
The response to the miracles progresses in a counter-direction. The wine of Cana aroused pleasure and delight. “Thou hast kept the good wine until now.” But the succeeding miracles triggered growing animosity. The beneficiary of one miracle, the lame man of John 5, himself became a betrayer of Jesus. The hostility of sinners, like the power of God, found its climax in the desperation of the Jews: “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs” (John 11:47). We know the resolution of that quandary.
So John's magnificent Gospel carries us from “the beginning of signs” to “many signs.” The greatest sign, surely, still continues in the healed and transformed lives of all whom He encounters. LKW