“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.” —G.K. Chesterton, the closing line of Orthodoxy
I love the detail of Scripture. I love the bits God has elected to include—like how Jesus ended his last supper in the upper room, right before his arrest, by singing with his friends. (Mark 14:26) And I love the mystery of what he has left out—like what ever came of Nicodemus, for example. (Jn 19:39)
I am currently working on the follow up to my first book, Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative—a 25 chapter retelling of the story of the need for and the coming of Christ from Genesis through the nativity. The new book will be a Lenten companion—40 chapters tracing the narrative of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as found in the four Gospels. I hope to release it before the end of the year.
The opening chapters of the new book take us into the early part of Jesus’ story when he was, for all intents and purposes, unknown to the world. Though we read it knowing what is coming, the people around him had no idea who he was or how he was about to change the world.
Jesus’ first public miracle took place at a wedding in a town called Cana, west of the Sea of Galilee. Mary’s involvement in the after-party suggests these were either relatives or friends of Jesus’ family.
Weddings in those days were big events that lasted several days. The wedding’s host was responsible for making sure they had enough food and wine to last to the end. At this particular wedding, the unthinkable happened. They ran out of wine early. So Mary asked Jesus if he could help.
Jesus’ initial response to Mary was as cryptic as anything you’ll find in Scripture. He told her, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4) He seemed troubled by his mother’s request, though in itself it wasn’t that unreasonable. She was just asking for help. And since Jesus hadn’t fully shown what he was capable of when it came to miracles, I imagine Mary wasn’t certain about what Jesus would do.
Regardless, Jesus heard more in her request than she knew she was asking.
In a sermon Pastor Tim Keller preached on this passage, he asked, “What do single people think about at weddings? Their own wedding.” So what was Jesus thinking about? Was he thinking about his hour? His wedding? His bride? Is there any good reason to think he wasn’t?
He was about to perform his first public miracle. Let me frame that a different way. He was about to formally and publicly introduce himself to his bride—the church—for the first time. I wonder if Mary’s request sounded to him something like, “Go on, son. Ask that girl to dance.”
Jesus told the servants to fill the stone jars used for ceremonial cleansing with water—six of them, each able to hold 20 to 30 gallons. (Jn 2:6) When they did what he said, the water became wine—good wine, the steward would later say with a smile. (Jn 2:10)
Let’s split the difference on those stone jars and say they each held 25 gallons. That makes one hundred and fifty gallons of fine wine. Jesus’ gift to the wedding at Cana amounted to over 700 bottles of wine. Think about that for a minute. Sure, it might have been a big wedding. But what would you think if someone brought 700 bottles of wine to your party?
Have we found a glimpse of what Chesterton found so elusive—Jesus’ mirth? Is there not some measure of mirth in the man who brings 150 gallons of wine to a party? Any party?
And yet we know this couldn’t have been mirth alone, because something about the whole ordeal troubled him. I wonder if part of the mysterious sorrow we see in Jesus as he performed this miracle stemmed from a sense that this wine was meant for a different wedding—that it belonged to his special reserve, a reserve that still exists out there somewhere, somehow.
Do you suppose those wedding guests were drinking the finest wine ever to pass over the lips of men? Were they drinking the best wine in the history of the world? They couldn’t have known it if they were. Still, I wonder.
One day I will hold a glass of that wine in my hand. (Rev 19:6-9) When I set it down, it will be to dance.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).