Wine of Cleansing
One of the typical Epiphany Gospel readings is from John 2 – the miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. You know the one – where Jesus turns 120-180 gallons of plain water into just as much of the best wine. Crazy. But wonderful.
There are some unusual details in the narrative that I usually gloss over, but (thanks to Tim Keller) now realize may have greater significance than I thought. The first detail is Jesus' rather brusque (almost harsh) response to his mother. The second is the bit about the stone jars being used for ceremonial washings.
With regard the first, apparently Jesus' response was to the effect that he wasn't ready to die. The time for that wasn't at hand. His mother was pointing out the brokenness of the moment: they have no wine. Wine was a symbol of joy, and to have run out of wine while hosting the community was not only to picture the wrong things, but it was a social embarrassment that would follow the couple for years (maybe all their married life). Mary was basically asking Jesus to fix the mess. His response was to the effect that the only way for him to fix things and to give true and lasting joy was for him to die and bring the forgiveness and the healing that reconciliation with God would bring. It wasn't that time – yet.
But he nonetheless gave a picture of the joy that would be when the work that he came to accomplish was complete. He turned all that water into lots and lots of really good wine. And yet the joy he gave at the wedding in Cana was nothing compared to the day when God would wipe away every tear, destroy death forever, and prepare a feast of the richest food and the finest wine on His mountain for all the nations. It would be a wedding feast for His Son.
So Jesus was anticipating the requirement for the joy that all creation longed for – and that requirement was his death on the cross for the reconciliation of the world to God. It wasn't the time, and so he was resistant to his mother's suggestion, when she hinted at the necessary work that he would one day accomplish. “I hear you, mom. But it's not time yet.”
Secondly, what about the detail of those water jars used in the customary washings of the Jews for purification...? Keller thinks that this is a hint at what would be the fulfillment of various customs and rituals of purification. Washing with water was only outward and temporary. It was symbolic of our need to be cleansed from the filth of our sin, but water could never wash away our corruptions, our heart messes. There was a deeper purification that was needed. There was a rite needed that would do what water could never do. The color of the wine was a picture of blood. Wine was the blood of grapes. Turning the water into wine in the very stone jars used for purification indicated that Jesus would bring the true cleansing of soul, the cleansing that would wash away our sins such that we could stand before God. It would be his blood shed on the cross for the redemption of the world that would be effectual for washing our souls white as snow.
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Wine. A picture of joy, a picture of blood, and both pictures fulfilled in the work of Jesus.