Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing,each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” (John 2:6-8)
The rest of the story is this, the master of the banquet was pleased, and the party went on. The reason he was pleased was because he was under the impression that the “plan” was for the best wine to be saved for the end of the party. Tradition was that the best wine would be served at the beginning of this first century extravagant celebration of marriage. That way, the people would literally drink their fill, and not be able to tell the difference when the “cheap” wine came into play. This sits as an uneasy prospect for some, that Jesus would be at a party where there may be some “drunkards”, and then provide a way for the wine to be even better at the end. That however isn’t the point is it?
For the longest time, I assumed that the miracle of the wine at Cana had more to do with the party than it did with anything else. I once read Max Lucado’s take on this, Max said that one of the things that Jesus was doing was providing “one last hurrah” for his disciples, before they began the biggest journey of their lives. I see that point, and I’m not completely against it. Jesus obviously wasn’t afraid for people to see him at a party or in the home of a sinner. After all, that is what He is about! Being in the place, available for those who need Him the most. However, I really don’t think that the “party” had anything to do with this miracle.
A couple of weeks ago, our staff had the opportunity to hear Jessica Lagrone, Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, at a conference we were attending. She preached on this subject, and pointed out something that had slipped by me over the years. The key to this story isn’t the party. Neither is the point of the story the wine. The point is where Jesus had the wine placed. If we notice in verse 6, Jesus tells the servants to get the six stone jars used for ceremonial washing and fill them with water. The point of the story is what Jesus used to make the miraculous happen, the jars.
For centuries, the Hebrew culture had been saturated in the reality of “clean vs. unclean”. Their whole life depended upon whether or not they could go to the temple, keep the holy days, and submit the correct sacrificial offering at the proper time. They were expected to be clean to do these things! In order to be clean, and/or remain clean, ceremonial washing was observed “religiously” (pun intended). For the first century Jew there were two types of ceremonial cleansing; mikveh, full body immersion, and netilat yadayim, which is the washing of the hands. Tradition says that the majority of the washing of the hands was done with a specific ceremonial cup. However, tradition also tells us that these kinds of things would change depending on the time, place, and even rabbinical preference. So our assumption was that the jars were used for hand washing. The jars were at the party so that the good Jewish folk who were there could wash their hands as they enter and probably when they leave.
In our culture of hand sanitizer being available everywhere, this may not seem to be too odd. However, the key to this is understanding that hygiene as we understand it, was the furthest thing from the mind of the first century Jew. If wasn’t even on the radar. The cleansing had to do with the awareness that the Jew was supposed to have of humanities ability to sin, and do so quite freely. Doing something against God’s law was a sin. This included being in contact with people who weren’t “clean”. The ceremonial cleansing had nothing to do with whether or not they would get a virus by grabbing a highly used door knob. It had to do with whether or not they could fulfill their writes as a Jew. They had to be “clean” in order to be acceptable to God.
This puts things in a completely different perspective when it comes to this story. The stone jars were something used for a Holy purpose, of human beings doing something, by their own efforts, to become clean before God. However, we know what Jesus knew. Because of his example and teaching we know there is no way our efforts can ever make us pleasing to God. No matter how many times we try to wash our hands clean of the stain of sin, we can’t do it. So when Jesus calls for the servants to get the jars for cleansing, which were set aside to hold water, to attempt to wash away sin, it’s easy to see what He is doing. On the night in which Jesus gave himself up, He took a cup, a cup which had not been used until that moment, a cup set aside for the Messiah, full of wine and gave it to His disciples to drink. Why? Because the wine they had was the wine that symbolized salvation. It was his blood. The blood that would be shed the very next day. The blood that would cleanse them. The ceremonial washing was about to become null and void for those sitting at the table. We understand that the disciples didn’t stop being Jewish when Jesus left the tomb empty, scripture is clear that they still went to the temple, and still observed that which made them Jewish. They probably washed as they had before, but by now it was completely different. Now, the washing was more of a remembrance of where they had come from. The cup of which they now partook, was that which made them truly clean.
At the wedding at Cana, Jesus was saying, that the old is passing away and the new is here. These ceremonial jars that have been used to wash hands, to become acceptable before God, are now being filled with the one thing that can pay the price. They were now being filled with the only thing that could cleanse and cleanse forever!
What “water” in our lives do we need to place in the ceremonial jars of Jesus? What is it that we need to hand over to the vineyard keeper? What is it that we still hold onto that Jesus needs to turn into wine? We can’t keep the same water in the same jars forever. After all, water that just sits around starts to stink. Water that sits around becomes infested with mosquitos. Let’s not let the water in our lives become the thing that holds His purpose in our lives back. Let Him turn it to wine. After all, his “stone jar” is the only vessel that can handle the job!