An Exegetical Reading of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) – An Excerpt from John
Today’s excerpt is from the Gospel of John, the newest installment in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.
Written by Edward W. Klink III, the excerpt below from John 2:1-11 is an example of how each passage is interpreted in the light of its biblical setting, with a view to grammatical detail, literary context, flow of biblical argument, and historical setting.
The careful and lengthy introduction to Jesus by means of a prologue (1:1 – 18) and a two-pericope introduction to the narrative proper (1:19 – 51), along with the careful articulation of the completion of the first “week” of the ministry of Jesus, has emphasized that in the person of Jesus the Creator is now with his creation. The focus can now transition to the work of God in the world. This pericope is the first recorded work. This first work serves as a “sign” to the unseen realities also at work and to that which the work will ultimately accomplish.
The arrival of Jesus transforms the world and all its activities. During a wedding celebration, Jesus transposes the purposes and plans of humanity with the will and wisdom of the Father, and, with a reversal of grace, transforms a failing celebration into the celebration of the wedding of God. Jesus, the faithful Son and true bridegroom, is making preparations for his bride, the Church.
Structure and Literary Form
Unlike the previous pericopae, which serve as the introduction to the narrative proper and have unique structural designators, this is the first pericope in the Gospel that corresponds to the basic story form (see Introduction). The introduction/setting is established in vv. 1 – 3. The conflict is quickly presented in v. 4, with the response of Jesus creating the climactic moment of the pericope. The resolution is provided in vv. 5 – 8, including the response to and aftermath of Jesus’s statement. Finally, the conclusion/interpretation is provided in vv. 9 – 11 and serves to explain the result of the activities, with v. 11 offering a closing summary regarding the meaning of the pericope and its relation to the rest of the Gospel.
Explanation of the Text
Although the Gospel of John begins with a prologue which serves to guide and direct the reader, at the level of the narrative’s development the entire first chapter (1:1 – 51) has functioned as an introduction to the Gospel and to Jesus. This introduction explained the context into which Jesus entered, the witness provided for him by the Baptist, and his functional identity as the revelation of God. Paralleling the creative work of God at creation, God was now present with his people, creatively and powerfully at work in the world. The entire first chapter of the Gospel has projected the creative “first week” of the Creator as he enters his creation.
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus Was there (Καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ γάμος ἐγένετο ἐν Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἦν ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐκεῖ). The narrator introduces the scene by informing the reader of a wedding that was taking place in Cana of Galilee (on the significance of “the third day,” see the sidebar “Jesus’s First Week”). The favored location is Khirbet Qana, which is located about nine miles north of Nazareth (Josephus, Life 86.207). Though some try to deduce a symbolic significance in Cana, the only significance that can be deduced is that it serves as a narrative place marker, since the first section of the Gospel story begins and ends in Cana (cf. 4:43 – 45, 54). It is not Cana but “a wedding” that is most determinative for the context of the pericope. It is interesting that the scene is set without Jesus being mentioned; the only character mentioned is the mother of Jesus. Her identity, however, is entirely defined by Jesus: “the mother of Jesus” (ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ). She is never named in the Gospel.
2:2 And Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding (ἐκλήθη δὲ καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν γάμον). The narrator adds that Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. Based upon chapter 1, the disciples accompanying Jesus are probably the five already mentioned: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and the anonymous disciple (1:35). There is no mention in the Gospel of the arrival of other disciples, though by 6:67 the narrator can speak of “the Twelve” without giving any indication when and from where the other seven came. That Jesus, his mother, and Jesus’s disciples were all invited to the wedding suggests the wedding was for a relative or close friend of the family, especially since Jesus’s mother bears some responsibility for the shortage of wine at the wedding (v. 3). It might also be significant that one of the disciples, Nathanael, originated from Cana (cf. 21:2).
Several aspects of first-century wedding ceremonies are assumed in this statement and need explanation. Wedding ceremonies were always accompanied by celebratory feasts and were important in Jewish culture. The importance of wedding celebrations caused many rabbis to excuse a wedding party from conflicting religious festival obligations. According to the custom, wedding celebrations normally lasted seven days. The guests in attendance were usually connected in a social manner. For example, depending on the wealth of the family, entire towns could be invited. Even more, people who disliked the wedding family would be obliged to attend the wedding, since refusing to attend was socially inappropriate. This makes an invited person, like Jesus, difficult to define in relation to the wedding family. And since it was common for a scholar to be invited to a wedding, it is also possible that Jesus’s invitation was connected to his growing recognition as a public teacher. This might also explain the attendance of his disciples, since they would have been included with their teacher.
2:3 When the wine was gone, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no more wine” (καὶ ὑστερήσαντος οἴνου λέγει ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ πρὸς αὐτόν, Οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν). After being introduced to the characters in vv. 1 – 2, we are now being prepared for the source of the conflict: the wedding celebration is running out of wine. Although wine was a standard part of daily life in the ancient Mediterranean world, Jewish literature makes clear that wine was an important part of festive occasions, especially at weddings. Since weddings in the first century were not about two people but about two families, the social dynamics were more comprehensive and intense. For this reason, to run out of wine during the wedding celebration was likely to have caused a loss of family honor and status. The anarthrous “wine” (οἴνου) might suggest that the wine was entirely gone, rather than just running out. Thus, the situation is dire.
The lack of wine at the wedding is connected to the mother of Jesus. The narrative not only gives no indication regarding the reason Jesus’s mother is involved, it also does not explain what options she had besides turning to Jesus. Various proposals have been offered for her connection to the wedding ceremony (e.g., a relative of the family) and her reason for going to Jesus (e.g., it was the oldest son’s responsibility in the absence/death of Joseph). None, however, are anything but conjecture, and several go well beyond any reasonable reconstruction. Although it is impossible to reconstruct his mother’s intentions, the narrative’s grammar might indicate that rather than commanding Jesus, she appears to be softly telling Jesus of the celebration’s plight in the hope that he might intervene. It is worth reiterating, however, that the narrative has not made the mother of Jesus the point of the story. Her lack of a name is itself support of this. However the plot’s conflict arrived at the feet of Jesus, it is there now.