Chapter 3 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 5
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE MARRIAGE FEAST IN CANA OF GALILEE, THE
MIRACLE THAT IS 'A SIGN.'
(St. John 2:1-12.)
At the close of His Discourse to Nathanael - His first sermon -
Jesus had made use of an expression which received its symbolic fulfilment in
His first deed. His first testimony about Himself had been to call Himself the
'Son of Man.'12
We cannot but feel that this bore reference to the confession of Nathanael:
'Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.' It is, as if He would
have turned the disciples from thoughts of His being the Son of God and King of
Israel to the voluntary humiliation of His Humanity, as being the necessary
basis of His work, without knowledge of which that of His Divinity would have
been a barren, speculative abstraction, and that of His Kingship a Jewish
fleshly dream. But it was not only knowledge of His humiliation in His
Humanity. For, as in the history of the Christ humiliation and glory are always
connected, the one enwrapped in the other as the flower in the bud, so here
also His humiliation as the Son of Man is the exaltation of humanity, the
realisation of its ideal destiny as created in the likeness of God. It should
never be forgotten, that such teaching of His exaltation and Kingship through
humiliation and representation of humanity was needful. It was the teaching
which was the outcome of the Temptation and of its victory, the very teaching
of the whole Evangelic history. Any other real learning of Christ would, as we
see it, have been impossible to the disciples - alike mentally, as regards
foundation and progression, and spiritually. A Christ: God, King, and not
primarily 'the Son of Man,' would not have been the Christ of Prophecy, nor the
Christ of Humanity, nor the Christ of salvation, nor yet the Christ of
sympathy, help, and example. A Christ, God and King, Who had suddenly risen
like the fierce Eastern sun in midday brightness, would have blinded by his
dazzling rays (as it did Saul on the way to Damascus), not risen 'with kindly
light' to chase away darkness and mists, and with genial growing warmth to woo
life and beauty into our barren world. And so, as 'it became Him,' for the
carrying out of the work, 'to make the Captain of Salvation perfect through
so it was needful for them that He should veil, even from their view who
followed Him, the glory of His Divinity and the power of His Kingship, till
they had learned all that the designation 'Son of Man' implied, as placed below
'Son of God' and 'King of Israel.'
1. St. John i 51.
2. For a full discussion of that most important and significant appellation 'Son of Man,' comp. Lücke, u. s.
pp. 459-466; Godet (German transl.) pp. 104-108; and especially Westcott, pp. 33-35. The main point is here first to ascertain the Old Testament import of the title, and then to view it as present to later Jewish thinking in the Pseudepigraphic writings (Book of Enoch). Finally, its full realisation must be studied in the Gospel-history.
3. Hebr. ii. 10.
This idea of the 'Son of Man,' although in its full and
prophetic meaning, seems to furnish the explanation of the miracle at the
marriage of Cana. We are now entering on the Ministry of 'The Son of Man,'
first and chiefly in its contrast to the preparatory call of the Baptist, with
the asceticism symbolic of it. We behold Him now as freely mingling with
humanity, sharing its joys and engagements, entering into its family life,
sanctioning and hallowing all by His Presents and blessing; then as transforming
the 'water of legal purification' into the wine of the new dispensation, and,
more than this, the water of our felt want into the wine of His giving; and,
lastly, as having absolute power as the 'Son of Man,' being also 'the Son of
God' and 'the King of Israel.' Not that it is intended to convey, that it was
the primary purpose of the miracle of Cana to exhibit the contrast between His
own Ministry and the asceticism of the Baptist, although greater could scarcely
be imagined than between the wilderness and the supply of wine at the
marriage-feast. Rather, since this essential difference really existed, it
naturally appeared at the very commencement of Christ's Ministry.4
And so in regard to the other meaning, also, which this history carries to our
4. We may, however, here again notice that, if this narrative had been fictitious, it
would seem most clumsily put together. To introduce the Forerunner with
fasting, and as an ascetic, and Him to Whom he pointed with a marriage-feast, is an incongruity which no writer of a legend would have perpetrated. But the
writer of the fourth Gospel does not seem conscious of any incongruity, and this because he has no ideal story nor characters to introduce. In this sense it may be said, that the introduction of the story of the marriage-feast of Cana is in itself the best proof of its truthfulness, and of the miracle which it records.
At the same time it must be borne in mind, that marriage
conveyed to the Jews much higher thoughts than merely those of festivity and
merriment. The pious fasted before it, confessing their sins. It was regarded
almost as a Sacrament. Entrance into the married state was thought to carry the
forgiveness of sins.56
It almost seems as if the relationship of Husband and Bride between Jehovah and
His people, so frequently insisted upon, not only in the Bible, but in Rabbinic
writings, had always been standing out in the background. Thus the bridal pair
on the marriage-day symbolised the union of God with Israel.7
Hence, though it may in part have been national pride, which considered the
birth of every Israelite as almost outweighing the rest of the world, it
scarcely wholly accounts for the ardent insistance on marriage, from the first
prayer at the circumcision of a child, onwards through the many and varied
admonitions to the same effect. Similarly, it may have been the deep feeling of
brotherhood in Israel, leading to sympathy with all that most touched the
heart, which invested with such sacredness participation in the gladness of
marriage,8 or the
sadness of burial. To use the bold allegory of the times, God Himself had
spoken the words of blessing over the cup at the union of our first parents,
when Michael and Gabriel acted as groomsmen,9
and the Angelic choir sang the wedding hymn.10
So also He had shown the example of visiting the sick (in the case of Abraham),
comforting the mourners (in that of Isaac), and burying the dead (in that of
Moses).11 Every man
who met it, was bound to rise and join the marriage procession, or the funeral
march. It was specially related of King Agrippa that he had done this, and a
curious Haggadah sets forth that, when Jezebel was eaten of dogs, her hands and
feet were spared,12
because, amidst all her wickedness, she had been wont to greet every
marriage-procession by clapping of hands, and to accompany the mourners a
certain distance on their way to the burying.13
And so we also read it, that, in the burying of the widow's son of Nain, 'much
people of the city was with her.'14
5. Yalkut on 1 Sam. xiii. 1 vol ii. p. 16 d.
6. The Biblical proofs adduced for attaching this benefit to a sage, a bridegroom, and
a prince on entering on their new state, are certainly peculiar. In the case of a bridegroom it is based on the name of Esau's bride, Machalath (Gen. xxviii. 9), a name which is derived from the Rabbinic 'Machal,' to forgive. In Jer. Biccur. iii. p. 65 d, where this is also related, it is pointed out that the original name of Esau's wife had been Basemath (Gen. xxxvi. 3), the name Machalath, therefore, having been given when Esau married.
7. In Yalkut on Is. lxi. 10 (vol. ii. p. 57 d Israel is said to have been ten times called in Scripture 'bride' (six times in Canticles, three times in Isaiah, and once in Jeremiah). Attention is also called to the 'ten garments' with which successively the Holy One arrayed Himself; to the symbolic priestly dignity of the bridegroom, &c.
8. Everything, even a funeral, had to give way to a marriage-procession.
9. Ber. R. 8.
10. Ab. de R. Nath. iv.
11. Sot. 14 a.
12. 2 Kings. ix. 35.
13. Yalkut on 2 Kings ix 35, vol. ii. p. 36 a and b.
14. St. Luke vii. 12.
In such circumstances, we would naturally expect that all
connected with marriage was planned with care, so as to bear the impress of
sanctity, and also to wear the aspect of gladness.15
A special formality, that of 'betrothal' (Erusin Qiddushin), preceded
the actual marriage by a period varying in length, but not exceeding a
twelvemonth in the case of a maiden.16
At the betrothal, the bridegroom, personally or by deputy, handed to the bride
a piece of money or a letter, it being expressly stated in each case that the
man thereby espoused the woman. From the moment of betrothal both parties were
regarded, and treated in law (as to inheritance, adultery, need of formal
divorce), as if they had been actually married, except as regarded their living
together. A legal document (the Shitré Erusin) fixed the dowry which
each brought, the mutual obligations, and all other legal points.17
Generally a festive meal closed the ceremony of betrothal - but not in
Galilee, where, habits being more simple and pure, that which sometimes
ended in sin was avoided.
15. For details I must refer to the Encyclopædias, to the article in Cassell's
'Bible Educator,' and to the corresponding chapter in 'Sketches of Jewish
16. Pesiq. R. 15 applies the first clause of Prov. xiii. 12 to a long engagement, the second to a short one.
17. The reader who is curious to see these and other legal documents in extenso, is referred to Dr. Sammter's ed. of the tractate Baba Metsia (notes at the end, fol. pp. 144-148).
On the evening of the actual marriage (Nissuin, Chathnuth),
the bride was led from her paternal home to that of her husband. First came the
merry sounds of music; then they who distributed among the people wine and oil,
and nuts among the children; next the bride, covered with the bridal veil, her
long hair flowing, surrounded by her companions, and led by 'the friends of the
bridegroom,' and 'the children of the bride-chamber.' All around were in
festive array; some carried torches, or lamps on poles; those nearest had
myrtle-branches and chaplets of flowers. Every one rose to salute the
procession, or join it; and it was deemed almost a religious duty to break into
praise of the beauty, the modesty, or the virtues of the bride. Arrived at her
new home, she was led to her husband. Some such formula as 'Take her according
to the Law of Moses and of Israel,'18
would be spoken, and the bride and bridegroom crowned with garlands.19
Then a formal legal instrument, called the Kethubah, was signed,20
which set forth that the bridegroom undertook to work for her, to honour, keep,
and care for her,21
as is the manner of the men of Israel; that he promised to give his maiden-wife
at least two hundred Zuz22
(or more it might be),23
and to increase her own dowry (which, in the case of a poor orphan, the
authorities supplied) by at least one half, and that he also undertook to lay
it out for her to the best advantage, all his own possessions being guarantee
for it.24 Then,
after the prescribed washing of hands and benediction, the marriage-supper
began, the cup being filled, and the solemn prayer of bridal benediction spoken
over it. And so the feast lasted, it might be more than one day, while each
sought to contribute, sometimes coarsely,25
sometimes wisely, to the general enjoyment,26
till at last 'the friends of the bridegroom' led the bridal pair to the Cheder
and the Chuppah, or the bridal chamber and bed. Here it ought to be
specially noticed, as a striking evidence that the writer of the fourth Gospel
was not only a Hebrew, but intimately acquainted with the varying customs
prevailing in Galilee and in Judæa, that at the marriage of Cana no 'friend of
the bridegroom,' or 'groomsman' (Shoshebheyna), is mentioned, while he is
referred to in St. John iii. 29, where the words are spoken outside the
boundaries of Galilee. For among the simpler and purer Galileans the practice
of having 'friends of the bridegroom,' which must so often have led to gross
did not obtain,28
though all the invited guests bore the general name of 'children of the
bridechamber' (bené Chuppah).29
18. Jer. Yeb. Md.
19. Some of these joyous demonstrations, such as the wearing of crowns, and even the bridal music, were for a time prohibited after the destruction of Jerusalem, in
token of national mourning (Sot. ix. 14). On these crowns comp. Wagenseil, Sota, pp. 965-967.
20. Comp. Tob. vii. 14.
21. I quote the very words of the formula, which, it will be noticed, closely agree with those in our own Marriage Service.
22. If the Zuz be reckoned at 7d., about 5l. 16s. 8d.
23. This, of course, represents only the minimum. In the case of a priest's daughter the ordinary legal minimum was doubled.
24. The Talmud (Tos. Kethub.) here puts the not inapt question, 'How if the bridegroom has no goods and chattels?' but ultimately comforts itself with the thought that every man has some property, if it were only the six feet of ground in which he is to be buried.
25. Not a few such instances of riotous merriment, and even dubious jokes, on the part of the greatest Rabbis are mentioned, to check which some were wont to adopt the curious device of breaking valuable vases, &c.
26. Comp. Ber. 6 b.
27. Comp. Kethub. 12 a; Jer. Kethub, i. p. 25 a.
28. This, and the other great differences in favour of morality and decency which distinguished the customs of Galilee from those of the rest of Palestine, are enumerated in Jer. Kethub. i. 1, p. 25 a, about the middle.
29. Comp. St. Matt. ix. 15.
was the marriage in Cana of Galilee. All connected with the account of it is
strictly Jewish - the feast, the guests, the invitation of the stranger Rabbi,
and its acceptance by Jesus. Any Jewish Rabbi would have gone, but how
differently from Him would he have spoken and acted! Let us first think of the
scenic details of the narrative. Strangely, we are not able to fix with
certainty the site of the little town of Cana.30
But if we adopt the most probable identification of it with the modern
pleasant village of Kefr Kenna,31
a few miles north-east of Nazareth, on the road to the Lake of Galilee, we
picture it to ourselves as on the slope of a hill, its houses rising terrace
upon terrace, looking north and west over a large plain (that of Battauf), and
south upon a valley, beyond which the hills rise that separate it from Mount
Tabor and the plain of Jezreel. As we approach the little town through that
smiling valley, we come upon a fountain of excellent water, around which the
village gardens and orchards clustered, that produced in great abundance the
best pomegranates in Palestine. Here was the home of Nathanael-Bartholomew, and
it seems not unlikely, that with him Jesus had passed the time intervening
between His arrival and 'the marriage,' to which His Mother had come - the
omission of all mention of Joseph leading to the supposition, that he had died
before that time. The inquiry, what had brought Jesus to Cana, seems almost
worse than idle, remembering what had passed between Him and Nathanael, and
what was to happen in the first 'sign,' which was to manifest His glory. It is
needless to speculate, whether He had known beforehand of 'the marriage.' But
we can understand the longing of the 'Israelite indeed' to have Him under his
roof, though we can only imagine what the Heavenly Guest, would now teach him,
and those others who accompanied Him. Nor is there any difficulty in
understanding, that on His arrival He would hear of this 'marriage,' of the
presence of His Mother in what seems to have been the house of a friend if not
a relative; that Jesus and His disciples would be bidden to the feast; and that
He resolved not only to comply with the request, but to use it as a
leave-taking from home and friends - similar, though also far other, than that
of Elisha, when he entered on his mission. Yet it seems deeply significant,
that the 'true Israelite' should have been honoured to be the first host of
30. Two such sites have been proposed, that by Dr. Robinson being very unlikely to represent the ancient 'Cana of Galilee.'
31. Comp. the memoir on the subject by Zeller in the Quarterly Report of the Palestine Explor. Fund (for 1869, No. iii., and for April 1878, by Mr. Hepworth
Dixon); and Lieut. Conder, Tent-Work in Palestine, vol. i. pp. 150-155. Zeller makes it five miles from Nazareth, Conder only three and three-quarters.
And truly a leave-taking it was for Christ from former friends
and home - a leave-taking also from His past life. If one part of the narrative
- that of His dealing with His Mother - has any special meaning, it is that of
leave-taking, or rather of leaving home and family, just as with this first
'sign' He took leave of all the past. When he had returned from His first
Temple-visit, it had been in the self-examination of voluntary humility: to 'be
subject to His Parents.' That period was now ended, and a new one had begun -
that of active consecration of the whole life to His 'Father's business.' And
what passed at the marriage-feast marks the beginning of this period. We stand
on the threshold, over which we pass from the old to the new - to use a New
Testament figure: to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.
Viewed in this light, what passed at the marriage in Cana seems
like taking up the thread, where it had been dropped at the first manifestation
of His Messianic consciousness. In the Temple at Jerusalem He had said in
answer to the misapprehensive question of His Mother: 'Wist ye not that
I must be about My Father's business?' and now when about to take in hand that
'business,' He tells her so again, and decisively, in reply to her
misapprehensive suggestion. It is a truth which we must ever learn, and
yet are ever slow to learn in our questionings and suggestings, alike as
concerns His dealings with ourselves and His rule of His Church, that the
highest and only true point of view is 'the Father's business,' not our
personal relationship to Christ. This thread, then, is taken up again at Cana
in the circle of friends, as immediately afterwards in His public manifestation,
in the purifying of the Temple. What He had first uttered as a Child, on His
first visit to the Temple, that He manifested forth when a Man, entering on His
active work - negatively, in His reply to His Mother; positively, in the 'sign'
He wrought. It all meant: 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's
business?' And, positively and negatively, His first appearance in Jerusalem32
meant just the same. For, there is ever deepest unity and harmony in that
truest Life, the Life of Life.
32. St. John ii. 13-17, and vv. 18-23.
As we pass through the court of that house in Cana, and reach the
covered gallery which opens on the various rooms - in this instance,
particularly, on the great reception room - all is festively adorned. In the
gallery the servants move about, and there the 'water-pots' are ranged, 'after
the manner of the Jews,' for purification - for the washing not only of hands
before and after eating, but also of the vessels used.33
How detailed Rabbinic ordinances were in these respects, will be shown in
another connection. 'Purification' was one of the main points in Rabbinic
sanctity. By far the largest and most elaborate34
of the six books into which the Mishnah is divided, is exclusively devoted to
this subject (the 'Seder Tohoroth,' purifications). Not to speak of
references in other parts of the Talmud, we have two special tractates to
instruct us about the purification of 'Hands' (Yadayim) and of 'Vessels'
(Kelim). The latter is the most elaborate in all the Mishnah, and
consists of not less than thirty chapters. Their perusal proves, alike the
strict accuracy of the Evangelic narratives, and the justice of Christ's
denunciations of the unreality and gross hypocrisy of this elaborateness of
This the more so, when we recall that it was actually vaunted as a special
qualification for a seat in the Sanhedrin, to be so acute and learned as to
know how to prove clean creeping things (which were declared unclean by the
Law).36 And the
mass of the people would have regarded neglect of the ordinances of
purification as betokening either gross ignorance, or daring impiety.
33. Comp. St. Mark vii. 1-4.
34. The whole Mishnah is divided into six Sedarim (Orders), of which the last is
the Seder Tohoroth, treating of 'purifications.' It consists of twelve tractates (Massikhtoth), 126 chapters (Peraqim), and contains no fewer than 1001 separate Mishnayoth (the next largest Seder - Neziqin - contains 689 Mishnayoth). The first tractate in this 'Order of Purifications' treats of the purification of vessels (Kelim), and contains no fewer than thirty chapters; 'Yadayim' ('hands') is the eleventh
tractate, and contains four chapters.
35. Comp. St. Mark vii. 2-5; St. Matt. xxiii. 25, 26; St. Luke xi. 38, 39.
36. Sanh. 17 a.
At any rate, such would not be exhibited on an occasion like
the present; and outside the reception-room, as St. John with graphic
minuteness of details relates, six of those stone pots, which we know from
were ranged. Here it may be well to add, as against objectors, that it is
impossible to state with certainty the exact measure represented by the 'two or
three firkins apiece.' For, although we know that the term metretes
(A.V. 'firkin') was intended as an equivalent for the Hebrew 'bath,'38
yet three different kinds of 'bath' were at the time used in Palestine:
the common Palestinian or 'wilderness' bath, that of Jerusalem, and that of
common Palestinian 'bath' was equal to the Roman amphora, containing
about 5 ¼ gallons, while the Sepphoris 'bath' corresponded to the Attic metretes,
and would contain about 8 ½ gallons. In the former case, therefore, each of
these pots might have held from 10 ½ to 15 ¾ gallons; in the latter, from 17 to
25 ½. Reasoning on the general ground that the so-called Sepphoris measurement
was common in Galilee, the larger quantity seems the more likely, though by no
means certain. It is almost like trifling on the threshold of such a history,
and yet so many cavils have been raised, that we must here remind ourselves,
that neither the size, nor the number of these vessels has anything
extraordinary about it. For such an occasion the family would produce or borrow
the largest and handsomest stone-vessels that could be procured; nor is it
necessary to suppose that they were filled to the brim; nor should we forget
that, from a Talmudic notice,40
it seems to have been the practice to set apart some of these vessels
exclusively for the use of the bride and of the more distinguished guests,
while the rest were used by the general company.
37. These 'stone-vessels' (Keley Abhanim) are often spoken of (for example, Chel. x. 1). In Yaday. i. 2 they are expressly mentioned for the purification of the hands.
38. Jos. Ant. viii. 2. 9.
39. For further details we refer to the excursus on Palestinian money, weights, and measures, in Herzfeld's Handelsgesch. d. Juden, pp. 171-185.
40. Shabb. 77 b. So Lightfoot in loc.
Entering the spacious, lofty dining-room,41
which would be brilliantly lighted with lamps and candlesticks, the guests are
disposed round tables on couches, soft with cushions or covered with tapestry,
or seated on chairs. The bridal blessing has been spoken, and the bridal cup
emptied. The feast is proceeding - not the common meal, which was generally
taken about even, according to the Rabbinic saying,42
that he who postponed it beyond that hour was as if he swallowed a stone - but
a festive evening meal. If there had been disposition to those exhibitions of,
or incitement to, indecorous and light merriment,43
such as even the more earnest Rabbis deprecated, surely the presence of Jesus
would have restrained it. And now there must have been a painful pause, or
something like it, when the Mother of Jesus whispered to Him that 'the wine
could, perhaps, be the less cause for reticence on this point towards her Son,
not merely because this failure may have arisen from the accession of guests in
the persons of Jesus and his disciples, for whom no provision had been
originally made, but because the gift of wine or oil on such occasions was
regarded a meritorious work of charity.45
41. The Teraqlin, from which the other side-rooms opened (Jer. Rosh haSh. 59 b;
Yoma 15 b). From Baba B. vi. 4 we learn, that such an apartment was at least 15 feet square and 15 feet high. Height of ceiling was characteristic of Palestinian houses. It was always half the breadth and length put together. Thus, in a small house consisting of one room: length, 12 feet, breadth, 9 feet, the height would be 10 ½ feet. In a large house: length, 15 feet, breadth, 12 feet, the height would be 13 ½ feet. From Jer. Kethub. p. 28 d we learn, that the bride was considered as actually married the moment she had entered the Teraqlin, before she had actually gone to the Chuppah.
42. Pas. 18 b.
43. Thus it was customary, and deemed meritorious, to sing and perform a kind of play with myrtle branches (Jer. Peah 15 d); although one Rabbi was visited with sudden death for excess in this respect.
44. St. John ii. 3, A.V.: 'when they wanted wine.'
45. Baba B ix.
But all this still leaves the main incidents in the narrative
untouched. How are we to understand the implied request of the Mother of Jesus?
how His reply? and what was the meaning of the miracle? It seems scarcely
possible to imagine that, remembering the miraculous circumstances connected
with His Birth, and informed of what had passed at Jordan, she now anticipated,
and by her suggestion wished to prompt, this as His Royal Messianic
With reverence be it said, such a beginning of Royalty and triumph would have
been paltry: rather that of the Jewish miracle-monger than that of the Christ
of the Gospels. Not so, if it was only 'a sign,' pointing to something beyond
itself. Again, such anticipations on the part of Mary seem psychologically
untrue - that is, untrue to her history. She could not, indeed, have ever
forgotten the circumstances which had surrounded His Birth; but the deeper she
'kept all these things in her heart,' the more mysterious would they seem, as
time passed in the dull round of the most simple and uneventful country-life,
and in the discharge of every-day duties, without even the faintest appearance
of anything beyond it. Only twelve years had passed since His Birth, and yet
they had not understood His saying in the Temple! How much more difficult would
it be after thirty years, when the Child had grown into Youth and Manhood, with
still the same silence of Divine Voices around? It is difficult to believe in
fierce sunshine on the afternoon of a long, grey day. Although we have no
absolute certainty of it, we have the strongest internal reasons for believing,
that Jesus had done no miracles these thirty years in the home at Nazareth,47
but lived the life of quiet submission and obedient waiting. That was the then
part of His Work. It may, indeed, have been that Mary knew of what had passed
at Jordan; and that, when she saw Him returning with His first disciples, who,
assuredly, would make no secret of their convictions - whatever these may have
conveyed to outsiders - she felt that a new period in His Life had opened. But
what was there in all this to suggest such a miracle? and if it had been
suggested, why not ask for it in express terms, if it was to be the
commencement, certainly in strangely incongruous circumstances, of a Royal
46. This is the view of many commentators, ancient and modern.
47. Tholuck and Lücke, however, hold
the opposite view.
On the other hand, there was one thing which she had learned,
and one thing which she was to unlearn, after those thirty years of the
Nazareth-Life. What she had learned - what she must have learned - was absolute
confidence in Jesus. What she had to unlearn, was the natural, yet entirely
mistaken, impression which His meekness, stillness, and long home-submission
had wrought on her as to His relationship to the family. It was, as we find
from her after-history, a very hard, very slow, and very painful thing to learn
it;48 yet very
needful, not only for her own sake, but because it was a lesson of absolute
truth. And so when she told Him of the want that had arisen, it was simply in
absolute confidence in her Son, probably without any conscious expectancy of a
miracle on His part.49
Yet not without a touch of maternal self-consciousness, almost pride, that He,
Whom she could trust to do anything that was needed, was her Son, Whom she
could solicit in the friendly family whose guests they were - and if not for
her sake, yet at her request. It was a true earth-view to take of their
relationship; only, an earth-view which must now for ever cease: the outcome of
His misunderstood meekness and weakness, and which yet, strangely enough, the
Romish Church puts in the forefront as the most powerful plea for Jesus'
acting. But the fundamental mistake in what she attempted is just this, that
she spake as His Mother, and placed that maternal relationship in connection
with His Work. And therefore it was that as, on the first misunderstanding in
the Temple, He had said: 'Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's
business?' so now: 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' With that 'business'
earthly relationship, however tender, had no connection. With everything else
it had, down to the utter self-forgetfulness of that tenderest commendation of
her to John, in the bitterest agonies of the Cross; but not with this. No, not
now, nor ever henceforth, with this. As in His first manifestation in the
Temple, so in this the first manifestation of His glory, the finger that
pointed to 'His hour' was not, and could not be, that of an earthly parent, but
of His Father in Heaven.50
There was, in truth, a twofold relationship in that Life, of which none other
but the Christ could have preserved the harmony.
48. Luthardt rightly calls it the commencement of a very painful education, of which the next stage is marked in St. Luke viii. 19, and the last in St. John xix. 26.
49. This meets the objection of Strauss and others, that Mary could not have expected a miracle. It is scarcely conceivable, how Calvin could have imagined that Mary had intended Jesus to deliver an address with the view of turning away thought from the want of wine; or Bengel, that she intended
to give a hint that the company should break up.
50. Godet aptly says. 'His motto henceforth is: My Father and I.'
This is one main point - we had almost called it the negative
one; the other, and positive one, was the miracle itself. All else is but
accidental and circumstantial. No one who either knows the use of the language,51
or remembers that, when commending her to John on the Cross, He used the same
mode of expression,52
will imagine, that there was anything derogatory to her, or harsh on His part,
in addressing her as 'woman' rather than 'mother.' But the language is to us
significant of the teaching intended to be conveyed, and as the beginning of
this further teaching: 'Who is My mother? and My brethren? And He stretched
forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My
51. Comp. the passages from the classics quoted by Wetstein in his Commentary.
52. St. John xix. 26.
53. St. Matt xii. 46-50.
And Mary did not, and yet she did, understand Him, when she
turned to the servants with the direction, implicitly to follow His behests.
What happened is well known: how, in the excess of their zeal, they filled the
water-pots to the brim - an accidental circumstance, yet useful, as much that
seems accidental, to show that there could be neither delusion nor collusion;
how, probably in the drawing of it, the water became best wine - 'the conscious
water saw its God, and blushed;' then the coarse proverbial joke of what was
probably the master of ceremonies and purveyor of the feast,54
intended, of course, not literally to apply to the present company, and yet in
its accidentalness an evidence of the reality of the miracle; after which the
narrative abruptly closes with a retrospective remark on the part of him who
relates it. What the bridegroom said; whether what had been done became known
to the guests, and, if so, what impression it wrought; how long Jesus remained;
what His Mother felt - of this and much more that might be asked, Scripture,
with that reverent reticence which we so often mark, in contrast to our shallow
talkativeness, takes no further notice. And best that it should be so. St. John
meant to tell us, what the Synoptists, who begin their account with the later
Galilean ministry, have not recorded,55
of the first of His miracles as a 'sign,'56
pointing to the deeper and higher that was to be revealed, and of the first
forth-manifesting of 'His glory.'57
That is all; and that object was attained. Witness the calm, grateful
retrospect upon that first day of miracles, summed up in these simple but
intensely conscious words: 'And His disciples believed on Him.'
54. Ecclus. xxxii. 1 2.
55. On the omission of certain parts of St. John's narrative by the Synoptists, and vice
versâ, and on the supposed differences, I can do no better than refer the reader to the admirable remarks of Canon Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, pp. 280 &c.
56. According to the best reading, and literally, 'This did - beginning of signs - Jesus in Cana.' Upon a careful review the Rabbinic expression Simana (taken from
the Greek word here used) would seem to me more fully to render the idea than the Hebrew Oth. But the significant use of the word sign should be well marked. See Canon Westcott on the passage.
57. In this, the first of his miracles, it was all the more necessary that He should manifest his glory.
A sign it was, from whatever point we view its meaning, as
previously indicated. For, like the diamond that shines with many colours, it
has many meanings; none of them designed, in the coarse sense of the term, but
all real, because the outcome of a real Divine Life and history. And a real
miracle also, not only historically, but as viewed in its many meanings; the
beginning of all others, which in a sense are but the unfolding of this first.
A miracle it is, which cannot be explained, but is only enhanced by the almost
incredible platitudes to which negative criticism has sunk in its commentation,58
for which there assuredly exists no legendary basis, either in Old Testament
history, or in contemporary Jewish expectation;59
which cannot be sublimated into nineteenth-century idealism;60
least of all can be conceived as an after-thought of His disciples, invented by
an Ephesian writer of the second century.61
But even the allegorical illustration of St. Augustine, who reminds us that in
the grape the water of rain is ever changed into wine, is scarcely true, save
as a bare illustration, and only lowers our view of the miracle. For miracle
it is,62 and will
ever remain; not, indeed, magic,63
nor arbitrary power, but power with a moral purpose, and that the highest.64
And we believe it, because this 'sign' is the first of all those miracles in
which the Miracle of Miracles gave 'a sign,' and manifested forth His glory -
the glory of His Person, the glory of His Purpose, and the glory of His Work.
58. Thus Schenkel regards Christ's answer to Mary as a proof that He was not on good terms with His family; Paulus suggests, that Jesus had brought the
wine, and that it was afterwards mixed with the water in the stone-vessels; Gfrörer,
that Mary had brought it as a present, and at the feast given Jesus the
appropriate hint when to have it set on. The gloss of Renan seems to me even more untenable and repulsive.
59. Against this view of Strauss, see Lücke,
u. s. p. 477.
60. So Lange, in his 'Life of Christ,' imagining that converse with Jesus had put all in that higher ecstasy in which He gave them to drink from the fulness of Himself. Similar spiritualisation - though by each in his own manner - has been attempted by Baur, Keim, Ewald, Hilgenfeld,
and others. But it seems more rational, with Schweizer and Weisse, to deny the historical accuracy of the whole, than to resort to such expedients.
61. Hilgenfeld, however, sees in this miracle an evidence that the Christ of the fourth Gospel proclaimed another and a higher than the God of the Old Testament - in short, evidence of the Gnostic taint of the fourth Gospel.
62. Meyer well reminds us that 'physical incomprehensibility is not identical with absolute impossibility.'
63. Godet has scarcely rightly marked the difference.
64. If I rightly understand the meaning of Dr. Abbott's remarks on the miracles
in the fourth Gospel (Encycl. Britan. vol. x. p. 825 b), they imply that the change of the water into wine was an emblematic reference to the
Eucharistic wine, this view being supported by a reference to 1 John v. 8. But could this be considered sufficient ground for the inference, that no historic reality attaches to the whole history? In that case it would have to be seriously maintained, that an Ephesian writer at the end of the second century
had invented the fiction of the miraculous change of water into wine, for the purpose of certain Eucharistic teaching!
Chapter 3 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 5