Filled to the Brim | Liz Downey

Still Life with White Wine and Water; Joseph Mellor Hanson, 1958; Oil on canvas; The Met, New York.

Still Life with White Wine and Water; Joseph Mellor Hanson, 1958; Oil on canvas; The Met, New York.

John 2:1-12

What’s the most embarrassed you’ve ever felt? A quick survey of my memories runs the gamut from mildly embarrassing (waving at a stranger who’s actually waving at someone else) to fairly excruciating (most of my high school interactions with boys I had a crush on...).

This passage from John’s gospel finds a newly-married couple on the verge of one of the most embarrassing days of their life. It’s their wedding feast, and they’ve run out of wine. From a modern perspective, this is a social faux pas, but hardly likely to ruin your life. However, as N.T. Wright puts it, in the ancient world “running out of wine was not just inconvenient, but a social disaster and disgrace. The family would have to live with the shame of it for a long time to come; bride and groom might regard it as bringing bad luck on their married life.”

It’s in this situation that we find Jesus and his disciples. Informed by his mother of the predicament, Jesus tells the servants to gather jars used for the Jewish rites of purification and fill them to the brim with water. He then instructs them to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” The master of the feast is impressed by the bridegroom’s generosity in saving the best wine for last and the couple’s reputation is saved.

What’s amazing is that verse 11 tells us that “this, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” Other miracles Christ performs later in his life have dramatic physical impacts – healing the blind and the paralyzed, raising Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and casting out demons, to name a few. So why was the first sign Jesus performed one that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to have a huge impact beyond the reputation of a few families?

I think it speaks to the lavishness of God’s grace, and his care and compassion for even the smallest details of our lives. It also has amazing echoes of the sacrifice Jesus will make on the cross later in his life. He takes the jars of the Jewish purification rites and uses them to produce something that nourishes the crowd at the bridal feast. Similarly, He pours out his body and blood on the cross so that everyone who believes in him will experience the overflowing abundance of his healing, and “the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

This Lent, how is He working through the details of your circumstances to transform them into something new? Maybe the places that feel empty and barren are even now being filled through God’s care and attention.

Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider, huge fan of public libraries, and loves traveling to new places near and far. Liz lives in Brookland.