Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Epiphany 2 Gospel Readings Episcopal Standard Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary

John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you. Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward. So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection on John 2: 1-11 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

For once the lectionary for the day lists four texts, all of which have something in common. All 4 are visionary texts, loaded with symbols for fragile souls, freighted with more meaning than meets the eye. Each of the 4 pictures makes its own emphasis: here our vision of God, there God's view of us, here the Church's vision of Jesus glorified, there our vision of "the common good." In every case it's theological imagination at work as if our very lives depend on it.

The Gospel's product of theological imagination for today is the Church's vision of Jesus glorified, as portrayed by the Fourth Gospel. Let's be careful to notice that it's not the fourth history, nor the fourth biography, but the Fourth Gospel. A gospel is visionary by definition, especially when it has in it a Book of Signs as this one does, for a gospel claims to tell us "God's spiel" or good news.

Let's recall that no gospel was written during Jesus' lifetime. Each gospel has the advantage of hindsight, so that a theological perspective has had time to develop and guide the author. That is far better for us than if there had been a camcorder there to record every word Jesus spoke, and every deed. Each gospel looks backward to Christian origins through the lens of Jesus' resurrection, so that Easter light bathes everything in each gospel from beginning to end. Each gospel also looks forward to its audience, and projects that same resurrection-light out over them.

Now let us imaginatively join first-century hearers of this gospel who, like us, had been prepared by worship before they heard "the sign" about water being turned into wine. Further, they knew about Jesus' resurrection "on the third day," and they had been to Eucharist where wine has special meaning.

John's story about a "sign" opens with the words "On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee ..." Immediately our memory bank recalls that "he was raised on the third day," and we suspect that this story has to do somehow with Jesus' resurrection. The story then relates the changing of water into wine, and we recall the wine that is used at the Lord's Table. Another clue is 6 jars (not 7, the perfect number, which will be the number of "signs" in this gospel). Only 6 jars, the number for imperfection, held the water that would be used "for the Jewish rites of purification."

This change from water to wine, then, is really about Jesus' identity as the One who initiated the transition from Judaism to Christianity. As the story concludes: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." In other words: "The story ... is not to be taken at its face value. Its true meaning lies deeper." (C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p.297) It "signifies" more than appears on its surface.

Those who have ears to hear recall words in this gospel's prologue: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory ..." That "glory," the resurrection "on the third day," and the wine at Eucharist -- these 3 symbols change everything in this story. We can no longer read or hear the story about the wedding at Cana in the same old way, for we have begun to hear it afresh as its first hearers surely did when they picked up on the story's "sign" quality. Camcorders cannot capture this vision of Jesus glorified. Only eyes that envision the gospel's encoded meaning can "get it."

Printable version

To Reflections on other Readings for Year C, Epiphany 2

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Psalm 36: 5-10
New Testament Lesson
John 2:1-11 (this page)
John 2:1-11 (this page)

John Gibbs, PhD. a retired theologian, attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 1998. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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