How does God communicate with us? How does God move us towards the divine will in any particular moment? Of course, there are many ways God may speak, from the pages of the Bible to a heavenly vision in prayer. But here in John chapter two the will of God is expressed using the guidance of other people. When Jesus and the disciples are receiving the blessing of hospitality at a wedding in Cana, the mother of Jesus is used as a vessel to articulate the divine will for Jesus to enact the kingdom of God where blessings given or received can ‘bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold’ (Mark 4.20).
The Gospel of John begins by stating that the Word – that we are surely supposed to understand as Christ – has existed since the very beginning with God but also, as God. This Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, announced in John 1: ‘the lamb of God’ (1.36) and ‘the Son of God’ (1.49). And throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed in his humanity and divinity; that is, he forms part of the essential relationship existing between the three persons-one God we call the Trinity. It is important to briefly remind ourselves of Jesus’ divine status as understood in the Gospel of John to provide a rock upon which we may stand whilst exploring some interesting elements of the wedding at Cana in John 2.
A wedding is taking place. ‘The mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding’ (John 2.1-2). It interests me how the mother is mentioned first, suggesting a crucial role in the story, and yet we often go immediately to Jesus’ presence at the celebrations… only then remembering that his mother was there as well! When the wine has run out, Jesus’ mother says plainly to her son: ‘they have no wine’ (2.3), presumably recognising that something must be done about it. And, ignoring his cryptic comment, ‘my hour has not yet come’ (2.4), she says to the servants, ‘do whatever he tells you’ (2.5). We know the rest of the story: the jars are filled with water, a cup is taken to the chief steward, who tastes it and says to the bridegroom, ‘you’ve saved the best wine until last!’ Jesus reveals his glory through the first of the signs told us by John.
Recall the initial words of Jesus: ‘What concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come’ (2.4). Given such a response, God, in that moment, uses another person – Jesus’ mother – to guide Jesus towards the divine will. Now of course, Jesus lives in accordance to the divine will, showing obedience even to death (Philippians 2.5-11). Of that there is no question. The Gospel of Luke, for instance, shows ‘the power of the Spirit’ leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tested and into Galilee to begin his ministry (e.g. 4.1; 4.14). In John 4.4, Jesus ‘had to go through Samaria’. Geographically speaking, other routes were available but the divine purpose for what would take place in Samaria meant that, in obedience, Jesus had to go by that road.
Sometimes however when reading the Gospels, we really get the sense of Jesus feeling his way forward. Almost as though, at times the divine purpose is unexpected, even for the Christ. Examples are found in Matthew 21 with the Canaanite woman and her daughter, and perhaps also Mark 10.17-22, the rich young ruler. In these texts the most life-giving response is worked out gradually as Jesus interacts with the people involved.
I find a similar gradual revelation here in John 2. Jesus does not (initially) see what his mother sees. Perhaps, the experience of being visited by the angel Gabriel, of saying ‘yes’ to the divine will (Luke 1.26-38), not to mention the things from Jesus’ youth that Luke tells us Mary treasured in her heart (Luke 2.51), shaped her into someone who could recognise the activity of the Spirit in similar ways to other devout characters in the Bible. And in this instance, such insight was necessary for God’s will to be carried out by Jesus. God uses the mother to instruct the son. In any case, this is a biblical idea:
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1.8)
Speaking generally, the wisdom of others, our elders, more experienced in the highs and lows of a life following God (or even just more experienced in life!), will often be of great help to us. But sometimes, when it is needed, the will of God for a certain instance can be articulated through any person. In that moment, we know that we have heard words that have been ignited by the divine Spirit and we must act. Even Jesus at the wedding must act in accordance to the divinely-inspired words spoken to him by Mary, his mother.
As already established, it is clear in the Gospels that the Son is constantly being shown the way by the one he calls Father. It is also to be affirmed again that Jesus is the Word made flesh who exists within the Trinity. Because it is a relationship between three persons that makes up the unity we call God, it is not surprising that the divine will for humanity is also expressed through relationship involving different people and God at different times. So, what I have seen here with Jesus at the wedding of Cana is something that is true for all believers:
Coming to know the divine will day by day – understanding exactly how we are to live as Christians – is a relational process that, given the particular circumstances we find ourselves in, might be revealed instantly, dramatically, or gradually in any number of ways.
An audio version of this reflection is available here: