THE PUBLIC LIFE, OF
Period of General Exploration
Jesus Reveals Himself as the Messiah
THE WEDDING AT THE HOME OF SOME RELATIVES OR FRIENDS OF JESUS AT CANA WHY THE MASTER AND HIS DISCIPLES ATTEND IT THE INCIDENT OCCASIONED BY THEIR COMING MARY'S PRUDENT REQUEST AND JESUS' RESPONSE THE CHANGING OF THE WATER INTO WINE VERIFICATION OF THE FIRST MIRACLE WORKED BY JESUS. (St. John ii, 112.)
MEANWHILE they directed their steps toward Galilee. The disciples no longer had anything to keep them on the banks of the Jordan, while Jesus was eager to go and present to His fellow countrymen the firstfruits of the great revelation.
During the journey, at Nazareth perhaps, whither the little caravan must have gone directly, they learned that a family festival was in progress at Cana. It was a marriage; Mary had already gone there, and Jesus Himself had been invited. Nathanael being a native of Cana, and his companions for their part desiring to return to the borders of the lake where they dwelt, the group of friends readily decided to accompany the Master. The latter had taken the liberty of inviting them.1 He could do so without any indiscretion; for, to all appearances, the wedding was being celebrated in a family most friendly, or perhaps related to His own. Hence it is that Mary had not awaited the arrival of her Son before going herself. Her nephews2 whom the Gospel calls the brothers of Jesus, were also there. It has long been supposed that one of them was the groom. Mary's evident interest, the responsibility she seems to assume, the familiarity with which she gives her orders to the servants, clearly indicate that she was as much at home in Cana as in her own house in Nazareth.
Jesus therefore decided to accept the invitation He had received. It was an opportunity to make known at the outset of His public life the tolerant spirit of His mission. Indeed, it was His intention to enter among the joys of the world to sanctify them, among its pleasures to make them wholesome, among sinners to convert them. John preached penance in the desert, he drew the guilty about him to terrify them; but He intends to advance upon them and to take hold of them in their merrymakings in order to touch their hearts and to transform their lives. To eat with publicans and to converse with fallen women, is not this the natural role of the good shepherd, who ought to pursue the straying lamb wherever it may be? Again, if His new proselytes, accustomed to hear only the echo of God's wrath from the lips of the man of the desert, are astonished at the kindness of their new Master, He is ready to prove by a miracle that, though ever kind and charitable, He is none the less Heaven's messenger, the authorized revealer of the mysteries of God.
Although, as the Evangelist seems to indicate,3 the travelers had only three days for their journey from the banks of the Jordan to Galilee, they must have reached Nazareth early on the third day. From Nazareth to Cana, whether it be KanaelDjelil or KefrKenna, was not far three hours to the first, two to the second.4 Where a charming little town, suspended from the side of the hill and built in amphitheatrical form, presents a most gracious aspect. Behind the hedges of nopals and pomegranates, an antique spring rises and forms a well into which young girls, with pitchers on their shoulders, descend by stone steps jutting from the walls, while on the road their mothers wash their linen in the basins fed from the same source.
Jesus and His disciples arrived at nightfall. The festival had already begun, perhaps, several days previously. The arrival of these latest guests served only to increase the joy of the occasion. Jesus, a friend of the family, came transformed into a teacher surrounded by His disciples. These latter found their pleasure in relating discreetly, but with sufficient enthusiasm to make known their own convictions, the Baptist's testimony, the miraculous occurrence at the baptism, and the story of their own vocation. A wave of religious joy prevailed, and exalted the earthly happiness of the noisy gathering.
But while they thus discoursed through the long evening, the wine had diminished in the urns. The presence of six new guests5 had not a little aided in hastening its consumption. No one among them had foreseen such an accident, but men can easily be excused for lack of foresight when a woman, mother, sister, or friend watches for them. In this instance it was Mary, who, though ravished with joy at the news that took up the attention of all present, was no less attentive to the needs of the feast.
She knew immediately, from the signs of some of the servants, that the provision of wine was exhausted. For the master of the house it was a mishap of which the arrival of Jesus and His disciples seemed to be the chief cause. Turning then to her Son, Mary said: "They have no wine." Beneath this charitable manner of telling an annoying incident was veiled the most respectful of requests. In reality, Mary summoned Jesus to the assistance of His hosts,6 and requested all that was needed, even a miracle. Jesus perceived it, and to show that the first duty of one who has received a Divine mission is to be ever without father or mother, deaf to the voice of blood, He replies coldly: "Woman, what is it to me and to thee? My hour is not yet come,"7 or, in other words, "Have no need less anxiety, wait and behold the end. When I shall put forth my hand, all will be well." Yet it cannot be denied that in the tone of His reply there was a something painful to Mary. It may be that in thus trying her character, and, particularly, the firmness of her faith, Jesus intended to show how prayer, when rising as a cry from a religious soul, ought never to be discouraged, but to hope against all hope.
But it is certain that Mary found in Jesus' response something which we ourselves cannot perceive, and without hesitation she concluded that her Son would act according to her desires. Then turning to the servants, she said: "Whatsoever He shall say to you, do, ye." Near by were six waterpots of stone for the accustomed purifications of the Israelites. They were of large dimensions, each one holding two or three measures, that is, from seventyseven to one hundred and sixteen liters.8 Jesus said to the servants: "Fill the waterpots with water." So eager were they to fulfill all His commands, that they filled them to the very top. Six hectoliters of wine in a country where the vine can scarcely grow might well seem a gift of royal munificence. Jesus could not bear to be ungenerous with the family that had given Him such a welcome. He and His disciples had come to the number of six, and an offering of six waterpots of wine, it seemed, ought sufficiently to recompense the generous hospitality with which they had been honored. If the quantity of wine had to be divided among several meals, as is probable, it was not too great. If it was for only one great banquet, then near its close, it is evident that Jesus acted with great liberality. Thus God gives the germ of wine in our vineyards, paying no thought to the abuses which man's intemperance may at all times commit, but which His merciful goodness ought not to take into account. But, in this instance, Jesus' presence and the miraculous character of the gift He offers were to preserve the guests from any regrettable excess.
The servants had scarcely filled the waterpots when a singular prodigy was accomplished; the water became wine. The same power that had ripened the ruddy liquor upon the hillsides had now produced it in the amphoras. He Who transforms into delicious wine the rain that falls from the clouds had found no difficulty in submitting to the same change the water with which the servants had just filled the vessels at the banquet. In the vineyards, to be sure, the transformation is gradual, such that, before the inorganic substance, which passes from one kingdom to another, becomes vegetable, there is a complex series of phenomena in which the dew of heaven is changed. To produce the grape there are required earth, air, light, and the vinestock that assimilates them all. The grape itself must undergo artificial operation before it finally becomes wine. But does all this mean that God, Who has determined the ordinary conditions for the production of wine, has no right to dispense with the laws assigned to nature? No, indeed; the sole Creator of causes, He can, when He will, create effects directly without recourse to the means which He, as absolute Master, may at will multiply, abridge, or suppress. Since every cause, furthermore, contains its effects, there is no doubt that He Who alone directly creates the vineyard can also directly create the wine.
Moreover, those who witnessed and those who were the instruments of this prodigy abstained from all these useless considerations. To Jesus, these servants were unknown, and consequently they had no reason for assisting Him, as has been averred in a bit of joyous pleasantry. Astonished and disinterested witnesses, they were simply to verify this miracle. "Draw but now," said Jesus in that gentle tone that spoke His pleasure, "and carry to the chief steward of the feast." His object was to prove thus in the eyes of those present that, all at once, as the water was being poured, He had produced not only a great quantity of wine, but also a wine of excellent quality. They did as they were ordered.
In public banquets, given by welltodo families as in this instance there was appointed over the ordinary domestics a chief who gave orders and presided over the distribution of the meats and drinks.9 He did not sit with the guests at table, but went and came, overlooking all and directing the service according to the needs of the assembly. It was to this chief of the banquet that the servants brought what they had drawn from the waterpots. As soon as he tasted of the wonderful liquid, the chief steward, not knowing whence it had been drawn, called to the bridegroom, and privately, but with the selfimportance generally assumed by men of his class, said to him: "Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drank,10 then that which is worse.11 But thou hast kept the good wine until now." It was found that he was right. But where was this exquisite wine discovered? It was not placed in the waterpots by fraud. The waiters were certain that they themselves had filled them with water. Yet it certainly was drawn from these pitchers into which they had poured only water. The conclusion, then, was forced upon them that the water had become wine, delicious and abundant. But here was a fact beyond the laws of nature, a miracle, a sign that showed forth the glory of Jesus. It was the first of them all. The disciples were deeply moved by it, and believed in Him.
The rest of the assembly were too boisterous or too frivolous to attach to the event the importance it deserved. After their first emotion of joy and gratitude, they applied themselves particularly to do honor to the gift thus miraculously presented. So do the generality of men each day eat and drink what God brings forth, with no thought even of looking up in token of gratitude to contemplate the hand that so liberally bestows upon them such great benefits.
1 The verb eklhqh in the singular indicates that they were invited only incidentally, and because they were already attached to Jesus who took them where He was to be welcomed Himself.
2 This does not refer to Joseph, who must have been dead, nor to His "sisters," who probably remained in Nazareth.
3 Ewald wrongly thinks that the wedding was celebrated on the third day of their stay in Cana. It was really on the third day after they had left the banks of the Jordan, or after they had met Nathanael on the road.
4 Since my visit to the site of KanaelDjelil in 1899, 1 would be less positive in my identification of Cana of the Gospel with KefrKenna. True, KanaelDjelil seems to have nothing in its favor but its name, and insignificant ruins, tombs, the foundations of a large building (possibly a monastery), some wells, and grottoes in the rocks; but the less there is remaining more surprising is the retention of the name. Its situation to the north the plain extending from Sepphoris to the Lake of Genesareth is, besides, not less in harmony with the Gospel story than that of KefrKenna, and the Biblical name is exactly preserved. I should not venture, therefore, as in the Voyage aux Pays Bibliques or in the article Cana in the Dict. Biblique, to give the preference to KefrKenna over KanaelDjelil. The peasants, in fact when asked where Kana is, unhesitatingly conduct you to the ruins of ElDjelil.
5 Wedding celebrations sometimes lasted an entire week. (Gen. xxix 27; Judges xiv, 15; Tob. ix, 12; x, 1.)
6 Exegetical authorities of some weight have given to Mary's remark a meaning sufficiently extraordinary to be worth noting; they say that what she meant was as follows: "The wine is giving out; rise from the table, so that the rest of the company may follow, and thus save the host the annoyance of being thus taken unawares"; and that Jesus replied "Woman, our thoughts are not the same; it is not time for me to go; I have yet something to accomplish here." This certainly seems to be too farfetched to have any semblance of truth. The expression "my hour" on the lips of Jesus always has a different meaning, and indicates something solemn.
7 There are various interpretations of this passage. Some, placing the interrogation point at the end of the phrase, translate it, "Woman, what need have we to trouble ourselves? Is not my hour now come?" Others render it thus: "Woman, what have I in common with thee? This is not my hour." But most generally, ti emoi kai soi in Scripture (Judges xi, 12; II Kings xvi, 10; III Kings xvii, 18; IV Kings iii, 13) signifies leave me in peace, leave it to me. The word woman, in the language Jesus spoke, was not unbecoming. It was synonymous with Madam.
8 According to the Septuagint the measure corresponded to the bath of the Hebrews (II Paral. iv, 5; III Esd. viii, 22); but according to Josephus (Ant., viii, 20) the bath contained seventytwo Roman sextaries. A sextary is considered equal to fiftyfour centiliters; hence a measure would be equivalent to thirtyeight liters and eightyeight centiliters.
9 Pollux, Onomast., iii, segm. 41; and again lib. vi, segm. 13. Heliod., vii, 27.
10 The words used by the steward, otan mequsqwsin, with misplaced pleasantry, ought to be translated: When they are drunk.
11 Pliny, H. N., xiv, 13, and Martial, Epig., i, 24, mention this custom of the ancients, which in our days is quite modified.
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