The First Sign: John 2:1-11


The wedding at Cana provides the context for an event that needs further exploration to uncover the truth that will reveal a meaning for the church today.  Jesus is at a wedding. The wine runs out. Water becomes wine. This is indeed a miracle. And this is as far as many will go because they have identified the miracle of water becoming wine.

But is this the meaning and the miracle that the Evangelist John wishes to present? I would like to explore this text further, taking as my starting point verse 4, “my hour has not yet come.” The same theme sounds in 7:30 and 8:20. The “hour” of Jesus is a valuable clue for uncovering what is mysterious in this passage.  Cana is not the place where the hour of Jesus will be revealed, yet something important is to be revealed there that will define the inner meaning of the hour.

Lest it go unnoticed, Jesus did not do anything. Jesus said fill the jars. Jesus said draw out the wine. The first sign is not about doing, it is about saying. In the Gospel of John “saying” is Logos. Sign and Word are the same. The first sign is the first word. However, this is not just any word or every word. It is a specific word that reveals something that has never been seen before. The saying changes water into wine. It takes something and makes it into what it was not. Saying is transformative. It is the divine acting upon itself: “the Word became flesh.”  The Logos acting upon itself to become what it was not. The miracle is not the thing transformed, but the one who transforms. This early in the narrative the wine is the focus. In the context of human events the divine goes unnoticed. This early in the narrative of John it would be a mistake to see in the wine a prefiguration of the blood of Christ. The time is not right. “My hour has not yet come.”

This is the first sign that Jesus did at Cana, “and manifested his glory.” The word “manifest” lies deeply in the heart of the word “epiphany.” That is why this narrative is referred to as the miracle of the epiphany. Epiphany is a word that means something shows itself as it really is. We have a paradox in this story: first, something becomes other than it is, that is, water becomes wine. Then, something reveals itself as it really is, the epiphany. The paradox, para-doxa, something not accessible to human awareness, comes to presence in such a way that it transforms the beholder. Jesus manifested his “doxa.”  Now we begin to enter the heart of the first sign. In John 1:14 the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, “we beheld his doxa, doxa as of the only Son from the Father.” At this stage of the narrative the content of his doxa is charis (grace) and alethia (truth). This is what his disciples saw when Jesus manifested his glory in verse 11, “and his disciples believed in him.” The manifestation of glory is the self-revelation of the divine. For the Evangelist, the glory of Christ is an eschatological event, that is, it is always trying to break into human existence to bring about faith.

In John 12:23 Jesus says, “the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.” Verse 27, “for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Verse 28, “Father, glorify thy name.” Jesus is the Name of the Father, he is the divine acting upon itself to reveal a world of grace that awaits those who believe. It is only as the narrative of the Evangelist unfolds that we begin to see that the “hour” of Jesus is the hour of his Passion, as we see more clearly in 13:1 and 17:1. Now we can get a deeper insight into the narrative of the wedding at Cana. What is hidden from the wedding guests is the revelation of the glory of Christ, which only his disciples saw and as a result believed. (In 2 Cor. 3: 7-11, Paul develops this theme of the glory of God much further). The first sign given at Cana is the Logos revealing itself as it really is: this is the miracle of the epiphany that the Evangelist wants to present. The revelation of his glory is the revelation of his Passion. It is accessible to faith and for faith. A church that occupies itself with water and wine needs to hear the Logos breaking into its existence with its eschatological message: the hour has come, it is always coming. Paul, too, still sings this theme, Romans 8:18.

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