That’s a lotta wine

20 January 2013
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 2C (RCL)
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons, and the servants filled them to the brim. If you do the math, that’s somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. Let’s just say 150 gallons. That’s a lot of wine. Of course a marriage feast involved the whole village, and would last for several days, but still, it’s a lot of wine, and really good wine.

Many readers have difficulty with Jesus’ seeming rudeness to his mother: “Woman, what is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” It would have been a great shame both to the bridegroom and to the village to run out of wine. Jesus seems to be saying that the shame won’t fall on him or his mother. But she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them, and he moves on as if nothing happened. At the level of the narrative, however, the question opens up a puzzle for the reader. When is Jesus’ hour and what does that have to do with wine and with his mother? If one is reading this Gospel from cover to cover, that question would remain open as one read. Jesus does not call his mother “woman” again, until he is on the cross, when he says to his mother, “Woman, behold your son,” and to the disciple whom he loved, “Behold your mother.” Jesus establishes a fictive household from the cross, just as this marriage is establishing a household.

Also, at the same festival at which he died, Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem, and certain Greeks sought to see him. Philip and Andrew came to him to tell him about the Greeks, and Jesus said, “Behold, the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it does, it bears much fruit.” Then the Greeks disappear from the story! Something about Greeks being included in the community and the community dying and bearing fruit is implied. The changing of water to wine was an element of the worship of Dionysus, in which women sacrificed (or actually tore apart) a goat. Jesus in this story is replacing Dionysian worship — Greeks are being included in the community, and the bridegroom has saved the best till last.

When the Samaritan woman at the well had gone home to get the other villagers, Jesus disciples try to get him to eat. He looks at the field and says they are white for the harvest. The image of grain involves gathering people into the community. And of course the bread is the flesh of Jesus and wine is his blood. When the soldier at the cross pierces his side, blood and water flow out. The feast of Jesus’ body and blood is exorbitant — more than more than enough.

When Mary enters the tomb of Jesus, she sees the two cherubim at the mercy seat, exactly where the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a goat on the great day of atonement. Immediately after this miracle, Jesus drives the money changers out of the temple and speaks of replacing it with his body. He replaces Jewish purification rituals (the water jars), Dionysian worship and Temple worship all with his community. And women play an important role (just as they did in the cult of Dionysus). And that worship is ecstatic. 150 gallons worth. What a party!

One thought on “That’s a lotta wine”

  1. The abundance of Jesus’ new wine can indeed fill up a whole community. You note the contrast between water and new wine. This could begin in 1:31-34 where John the Baptist says that while he baptizes with water, the one on whom he sees the Spirit descend and remain will baptize with the Spirit. So this Spirit that remains in Jesus is abounding, and Jesus will give this same abundance to his community of disciples. Similarly, in Jn. 4 is the contrast between the well water of the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ living water; in 7:38-39 Jesus says his living water portrays the Spirit, which he will give to his disciples after he is glorified.
    In Jn. 2 his hour has not yet come (as you say, his future hour to be glorified, to return to the Father, in 13:1). But Jesus gives new wine anyway as a sign of the glory he has and will give to his disciples when his hour comes. In Jn. 14-16 Jesus explains that he will not leave his disciples alone but will give them the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth.

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