Jesus the Vintner

Last Sunday, I was assigned to teach John 2:1–12. That’s the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. Why would John give us this story about Jesus as a wine-maker?

He is the only Gospel writer who tells this story.

Why do we even have four gospels? Wouldn’t one suffice?


Photo by Gabriella Fabbri • FreeImages

Photo by Gabriella Fabbri • FreeImages

When a journalist reports on a news story, rule No. 1 is you must have more than one source. Historians also try to get as many perspectives as they can. When Ken Burns makes a documentary, he doesn’t interview one expert—he interviews a bunch.

In the same way, we’ve been given four different perspectives on the gospel story. And just like each expert will bring a different set of facts to the documentary, each gospel writer has a different focus.

In his gospel study “Portraits of Christ,” Pastor Dan Hayden says each gospel writer pays attention to a different aspect of Jesus. Matthew wants us to see Jesus as King, so he gives us his birth story and genealogy. Mark sees Jesus as a servant, so there’s no genealogy or birth story, and the focus is on Jesus’ work. Luke shows us Jesus as fully Man, calling him Son of Man, and giving us his genealogy and birth story so we know where this man came from.

But John wants us to see Jesus as fully God. He is the Son of God. His human genealogy is not given, nor his birth story, but we are told he was God from the beginning and as “the word put on flesh to dwell among us.”

John’s goal is to demonstrate that Jesus is not just a wise teacher—he is God in flesh. Everything John tells us is designed to convince us of the Divinity of Christ.

Listen to Your Mother…

Jesus attends this wedding in Cana with his mother. A wedding in those days was a big deal. Because guests would have traveled there from Nazareth and all over … on foot … they would be expected to stay a week.

When you have that many people for that long, you’re bound to run out of wine. But this seems to have happened unexpectedly, and Mary is quite put out about it. The editors of the New English Translation postulate that her intervention could signal that the hosts are relatives—that she’s not just concerned about the host’s reputation, she’s looking out for the family’s honor.

When she asks Jesus to help, he says “My hour has not yet come.” Like any good writer, John is foreshadowing. There will be an hour…but it’s not here yet.

Ma’s having none of it. This is one of my favorite bits of Scripture.

My first husband’s grandmother was of Jewish and Italian heritage. Her favorite expression was “no one leaves my house hungry.” I picture her in this scene…the kind of woman you can’t say no to.

Because, you know, he tries to put her off, but she just turns to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you.”

I can imagine him rolling his eyes and sighing. Oy, what are you gonna do?

Empty Jars

John has a reason for every detail. Notice there are these big jugs available. Not just any jugs. The “water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.”

These jugs hold 20 gallons or more. And they are empty. Now, it’s entirely possible that everyone underwent the purification ritual before the wedding and used up all the water and the servants were so busy filling wine goblets they didn’t have time to refill the water jars.

But given what we know of John’s fondness for symbolism, that’s unlikely. Most likely, these empty purification vessels symbolize the emptiness of the Jewish legalistic adherence to outward forms instead of inward truth. Jesus replaces the dried-up old rituals with new wine.

Remember Jesus’s analogy: “no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22).

Jesus continually makes way for the new thing he is doing.

So Jesus takes these empty ritual jars—six of them—and fills them with gallons of fine wine. About 120 gallons. That should hold ’em awhile. Jesus doesn’t do things by halves, and that’s the point. He provides, and he does so abundantly.

And he provides the best. When the steward samples the wine — he doesn’t know where it came from — he tells the host “you saved the best for last.”

Our Portion

When Jesus gives, he gives abundantly, and he gives the best.

Sometimes that can be hard to remember when we’re in a season when we don’t seem to be receiving. We’re like, “Umm … ’scuse me, where’s my wine?”

There will be seasons when he says, “it’s not time yet.” When he says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

He’ll give it when he’s ready, and when he does, it will be abundant, and it will be the best.

This miracle Jesus performs is a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Like everything else in John’s gospel, it points to the character and person of Jesus.

Look at verse 11: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

They believed because they saw this sign. There will be many more signs, all placed to help us believe. All of these deeds point us not to Jesus as a man — that’s what Luke is after. They don’t point to Jesus as a servant, that’s Mark’s purpose. And they don’t even point to Jesus as king the way Matthew’s gospel does.

The signs John writes about all point to Jesus as God. They reveal his glory, so we might believe.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

7 comments on “Jesus the Vintner

  1. LOL! I don’t have a Jewish-Italian heritage, but I *do* hear Edith Bunker’s voice when I read this story in Scripture. And I see Yeshua doing EXACTLY what you describe, maybe a facepalm, going “OY! I said it’s not my hour!” (Which of course he pronounces “houah.”)

    “But they’re out of wine, Yeshua! The wine!” (Estelle Harris, maybe.)

    “MA! It’s not time! Oy vey!”

    She walks away and says to the servants, “PSST! Do whatevah he tells you to do.”

    Love that image. Love it. Great description too.

  2. What great perspective. We’re in the process, I think, of running out of wine and about to receive so it was a timely message. Thank you!

  3. “Oy, what are you gonna do?” Ha! This passage came up in our family Advent devotions this year. We were reading from the NIV, and in it, Jesus prefaces his reply with “Woman,” (not the only time he does that). At that point, I reminded my two sons that as they are not Jesus, they should never address their mother that way. My oldest (who is 11), answered, “We wouldn’t do that, because we can’t make it better by making miracle wine.” This is a very thoughtful reflection on this passage of Scripture. Thanks!

    • Your son is very clever. 😀

      Part of my lesson that I didn’t include in this post — because it’s a little off-topic — is that the Greek word Jesus uses there is actually very formal. Almost too formal for your mother. It’s like our “Madáme.” What I found in the commentaries I read is that Jesus always uses this very formal, respectful address for women, even the disreputable ones like the woman at the well a couple of chapters further into John.

      There He goes, being all role-model and stuff. 😉

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