Eucharistic Links of the Wedding Feast in Cana Account
The wedding feast at Cana, an event that witnessed the first miracle of Jesus as recounted in the Gospel of John (Jn 2:1-11), provides many messages and insights that come to mind simply by intently reflecting on the gospel story.
For instance, by His presence in the wedding feast, it is clear that Jesus blessed marriage itself and confirmed its sanctity. Mary’s remark to Jesus: “They have no wine” shows Mary’s solicitude and compassion towards the newly-wed couple. Also, the fact that Jesus performed the miracle despite His obvious reluctance and seeming lack of concern clearly manifests the love and importance He accorded His mother. Mary’s instruction to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” shows Mary’s faith in her Son and her role as one leading people to her Son.
The miracle of changing ordinary water into the best-tasting wine of the marriage feast manifested Jesus’ power, “revealing His glory,” and making the disciples believe in Jesus as one coming from God.
These insights derived from the text, however, are like scratching at the surface. The miracle itself, also called “sign,” leads us to ask the question: What is the meaning of this sign? Is there something more in this story that meets the eye? Is this event, with the circumstances surrounding it, related to or linked somehow with other events or passages in the Johannine Gospel, and/or other passages in the Old and New Testaments? Or is this incident to be taken merely at its surface value, that is, as a manifestation of Jesus’ accommodation to His mother and of His divine power that made his disciples believe in Him?
The four Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, contain narratives of events that are rich in imagery and allusions to other events in other parts of Scripture. What happened at the wedding feast at Cana is an example of such an event. Applying biblical methods of interpretation, we can find deeper meanings that are not immediately discernible by merely reading the text of the narrative.
This brief essay is an attempt to draw out the hidden meanings and messages in the narrative of the wedding feast at Cana, essentially that the event forms part of a wider scriptural framework understanding, which reveals the fuller divine plan. Reading the entire Johannine Gospel carefully, we cannot but see the link between the Cana story and the institution of the Eucharist as the central act of worship of the New Covenant. The wedding feast at Cana and the Eucharistic Liturgy both provide similar imagery to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which is the heavenly worship described by John in the Book of Revelation.
To find out such links and allusions, we begin by listing the main elements of the Cana story. First, it was a feast celebrating the marriage of a groom and His bride. Second, among the invited guests were Jesus, Mary and the disciples. Third, the focal object was wine, which the couple ran out of and which would have caused them embarrassment if its continued supply at the celebration was not forthcoming. Fourth, there was an initial apparent rejection of His mother’s request because, as Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” Fifth, Jesus nevertheless produced the much-needed drink by first instructing the servants to put water into six big empty jars and then changing that water into wine. Sixth, the wine that Jesus provided was the best quality wine at that wedding feast. Finally, witnessing this, the disciples believed in Jesus’ power, and Jesus’ glory was revealed.
The Water and Wine. First, we look at the water that was changed to wine. Jesus told the servants to fill up six big jars with water. These jars contained water used for Jewish ceremonial washings to purify persons that were defiled or unclean (see Num 19). What is changed into wine is not simply water, but water for Old Testament purification rituals. Jesus had this water replaced and changed it not simply into wine, but wine of finest quality and of surprising quantity (six jars of about twenty to thirty gallons each).
Why did Christ choose to use this kind of water to change into wine? Why not simply make several jars of such wine suddenly appear somewhere or delivered to the house as coming from a generous relative or benefactor? It would not be farfetched to say that this changing of water to wine is a symbol wrought by Jesus to indicate the passing of the Old to the New and that the New Covenant he established excels and transcends the Old Covenant rituals and practices. The changing of water into wine in abundance heralded the arrival of the Messiah, who had been expected to come in power and glory. [Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 984]
In the Old Testament, wine has various allusions or meanings. “Abundant wine is frequently a sign of the eschaton or a prophetic figure of speech for the dawning of the messianic age (see Amos 9:13; Hos 2:24; Joel 4:18) [The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p.954]. A large quantity of wine was provided by Jesus at that wedding celebration. Previous to that wedding feast attended by Jesus, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world “ (Jn 1:29, 35) and as the promised Messiah (Jn 1:20-34). Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God was there. He provided wine in abundance. The messianic age had arrived!
The “hour.” The most significant part of the narrative arousing the curiosity of the gospel reader is the part where Jesus, responding to His mother’s observation that there was no wine, says, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” The hidden assumption of this statement is that if His hour had already come, then he would be able to provide the wine that was needed by the newlywed couple to entertain their guests. In other words, something had to happen at that appointed hour, and then He would be able to provide the wine needed or to do something comparable to providing wine for that wedding feast.
What then is Jesus’ “hour”? The Gospel of John mentions the word “hour” seventeen times in his Gospel. The real meaning of “the hour” that Jesus is referring to is his passion and death on the cross. And so it is. In Jn 7:30, it is said that the Jews “tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because His hour had not yet come.” When he spoke in the temple area, no one arrested him because His hour had not yet come.” (Jn 8:20) And then, “Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to His own home, and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone because the Father is with me.” (Jn 16:32). And in Jn 12:27, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” [Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of John, Commentary, p. John 4]
Based on this understanding of “the hour” in “My hour has not yet come,” the interpretation follows that once His passion and death are realized and fulfilled, then Christ would be able to provide the wine comparable to the wine that was needed for the wedding feast at Cana. But then, at that time, the wedding feast would be a past event. Nevertheless, as the account goes, Jesus provided the wine and provided it in great abundance. He did not wait for His passion and death to occur before providing wine at that marriage feast.
Apart from “the hour” found in the verses cited above, there are other situations in the Gospel of John where “the hour” is mentioned. Examining these could shed further light on other meanings of “the hour” Jesus spoke of at Cana.
One of these occurred when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. (Jn 4:21 ) Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But