THE WEDDING AT CANA
Required Reading: Gospel of Saint John, chapters 1-2
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Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ . . . And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the creeping things of the ground, . . . And I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:14-20)
The Prophet Hosea speaks these words of hope to the Jewish people that some day their God would wash away their sin and lead them into Paradise, restoring the covenant bond that Adam had broken. Now Adam, through his burial and resurrection in the Jordan, has been reborn in Christ and has been reclothed in the “robe of Glory.” Having come forth from the Jordan wrapped in the “wedding garment” of grace, Adam stands in the bridal chamber. Cardinal Danielou, in reference to Baptism, states, “The catechumens are on the threshold of the royal garden of Paradise, where the marriage is to take place.”[i] Therefore, having witnessed the restoration of Adam in the Jordan River, we can now turn our gaze toward Cana and through the eyes of the Beloved Disciple see the marital day of Paradise recapitulated.
Recalling the images of Eden regarding the intended covenant union between God and man and between man and woman, as well as the dramatic divorce on the seventh day, let us stand in the midst of the wedding at Cana and see the festival unfold before our eyes. As we do so, let us remember the importance of the science of typology: “The relation of the whole of the Old Testament to the New is that of the shadow to the substance (Heb 10:1), of the image to the object that it represents.”[ii]
MARY’S ROLE IN REDEMPTION
The Church teaches that “the principle purpose to which the plan of the Old Covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12).”[iii] Although not every person or event in the Sacred Text foreshadows future events, the most important figures are images of the revelation of the New Covenant. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no more significant human figure in the New Testament than Mary, whom the Church has traditionally regarded as the New Eve.[iv] Following upon this tradition, Cardinal John Henry Newman explains that understanding the role of Eve in the fall of Man is key to understanding the role of Mary in redemption: “This interpretation, and the parallelism it involves, seem to me undeniable; but at all events (and this is my point) the parallelism is the doctrine of the fathers, from the earliest times; and, this being established, we are able, by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our redemption.”[v] It is from this Patristic perspective, which contrasts the role of Eve in the fall of man with the role Mary in the redemption, that this study will view the person of Mary in the Cana narrative.
With the Edenic Paradigm as the primary interpretive tool, and viewing the story of the wedding in light of the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, we will see the role of Mary as the New Eve, the bride and mother of the New Adam. However, before progressing it is necessary first to discern the contextual landscape within which the story of Cana is planted.[vi]
In the opening words of the Gospel, the Beloved Disciple gives his readers the first “road sign” needed to interpret his text: “en arch hn o logoς” (Jn. 1:1). By paralleling the opening words of Genesis, #rah taw ~ymvh ta ~yhla arb tyvarb, Saint John points to the interpretive paradigm within which his gospel is to be understood.[vii] Furthermore, by chiastically structuring the prologue[viii] to focus upon the central phrase, “to all those who believed in his name he gave the power to become sons of God,” Saint John identifies Christ’s mission and thus concentrates the whole of the Gospel upon the restoration of Adam’s divine sonship. The intricate structure of the Gospel’s opening also contains further instruction about how the Holy Apostle interprets the loss of Adam’s sonship in the garden. Within the first two chapters of John’s Gospel, the phrase “the next day” is repeated three times.[ix] If the time progression in the narrative is read carefully, the opening words of the Gospel speak of the light that proceeds from the mouth of God into creation, paralleling the first day of Genesis. In the Gospel narrative, the first day is followed by “the next day” in verse 29, and again in verse 35, and finally in verse 43. This narrative structure leaves the attentive reader on the fourth day of Saint John’s Gospel, upon which three days are added (Jn. 2:1), totaling seven days. “[This] subtle seven day structure,” says David Chilton, “is meant to remind us of the original seven days of creation.” [x] Thus, the seventh day in John’s Gospel echoes the seventh day in Genesis, the day of the marriage covenant between God and creation and between Adam and Eve. It is on this day of Sabbath rest that Jesus Christ, the New Adam, appears at a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee.
THE WEDDING FEAST
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, 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 steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him (Jn. 2:1-11).
In the text of Saint John’s Gospel the smallest details often reveal the greatest truths. This is true of the very first detail given about the wedding itself: “The wine had failed” (Jn. 2:3). According to Jewish custom at the time, the bridegroom was to provide the necessary goods for the festival, as part of the offering for the bride.[xi] If the groom failed to provide for the guests, and his new bride, he committed a serious transgression. D. A. Carson explains, “A wedding celebration could last as long as a week, and the financial responsibility lay with the groom. To run out of supplies would be a dreadful embarrassment . . . ; there is some evidence it could lay the groom open to a lawsuit from aggrieved relatives of the bride.”[xii] Therefore, based upon the structure given in John’s Gospel and the placement of the wedding feast on the seventh day, it is evident that Saint John intends to draw a three-fold parallel between Jesus, the Bridegroom of Cana, and the Old Adam.[xiii] Jesus, the New Adam, is presented in contrast to the Bridegroom of Cana, who failed in his marital obligation to provide for the feast. The failed bridegroom in Saint John’s Gospel in turn represents the Old Adam, the bridegroom who had failed in his covenant obligations to feed and protect Eve on the seventh day and had incurred the covenant lawsuit of death.
After the introduction of the failed bridegroom, Saint John immediately unveils Mary, the New Eve, who says to her son, “They have no wine” (Jn. 2:3). Mary calls upon the New Adam to do what the Old Adam had failed to do: to feed his bride and her children with the fruit of life and to enter into a marital communion with her.[xiv]
The next verse of Saint John’s Gospel, “ti emoi kai soi, gunai,” has baffled many translators and biblical commentators. The English translations range from “Woman, why turn to me?”[xv] to “Nay, woman, why dost thou trouble me with that?”[xvi] Jerome’s Vulgate is the closest to the original Greek: “Quid mihi et tibi est mulier.” The “word for word” English translation for this is, “What is it to you and to me?” This could also be translated as, “What is this between you and me?” The Douay Rheims comes closest to this translation with, “Woman, what is that to me and to thee?” When this phrase is interpreted within the covenant context of Saint John’s Gospel, as well as within the covenant context of the opening chapters of Genesis, it becomes clear. The first word of our Lord’s response harkens to the seventh day marriage covenant between Adam and Eve as Jesus calls His mother “woman,” the title that Adam had called Eve when first beholding her.[xvii] The phrase “between you and me,” ambiguous in its meaning in the Greek text, is fairly clear according to the covenant context of the seventh day marriage feast. The expression is meant to communicate covenantal agreement.
Similar phraseology is used in Genesis 23.[xviii] Abraham, attempting to find a place to bury the body of his wife Sarah, offers to buy land from Ephron the Hittite. To the modern reader it may first appear that Ephron is demanding that Abraham take the land at no charge, while Abraham courteously argues that he must pay. The text itself proves this interpretation wrong. After Ephron uses the phrase, “What is that between you and me?” Abraham agrees to the terms. If this were a mere courtesy argument, each trying to show who is the greater gentleman, the field of Machpelah would have been freely given over to Abraham once he agreed (Gen. 23:16). Instead, Abraham “agreed with Ephron,” and immediately “weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.”[xix] It is clear from this exchange that the phrase “what is that between you and me” points to much more than a polite gesture. Rather, the very words “between you and me” seal the covenant agreement; there are no other words necessary. Hahn explains that this phrase “is actually a Hebrew idiom.”[xx] This phrase implies no conflict, but rather a kind of agreement, an agreement that is in the form of a covenant.
Understanding the phrase “between you and me” in John 2 as a Hebrew covenantal idiom rendered in Greek clarifies the reason for Mary’s response, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5). In the quick exchange between Mary and Jesus, the language of covenant agreement has been used and Christ accepts the request for wine to feed the thirsty Eve.[xxi] Eve has approached Adam, this time not with the fruit of death in her hand, but with a plea for the New Adam to give her pure juice from the garden which He has tilled.
STANDING BETWEEN EVE AND THE SERPENT
After agreeing, Jesus informs Mary, “My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4). The hour Christ refers to is His passion and crucifixion. Saint John, reclining on the breast of his Savior at the Mystical Supper, hears our Lord’s prayer to the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify Thee” (Jn. 17:1). But why does Jesus point to the hour of His crucifixion at this moment of the wedding feast? By speaking the words of love at this very moment, Our Lord places Himself on the path that will lead to His ultimate battle with the Ancient Dragon: the battle of the Cross. The “hour” of our Lord is the “definitive conquest of the Dragon, . . . when He [Jesus] defeated the powers of darkness, disarmed the demonic forces, cast out the devil, and rendered him powerless (Ps. 110:6; Jn. 12:31-32; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 12:5-10; 20:1-3).”[xxii] If Jesus is truly the New Adam and Mary the New Eve, then it is this precise moment of covenantal union that reverses the fateful conversation between the ancient serpent and the woman. It is now that the cross must come into view, for it is at this moment that the New Adam, “gives himself up” for His bride.[xxiii] By declaring union with the woman, Jesus has declared war against the Dragon of Genesis. Hanging upon the Cross, plunged into the very land in which the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge had been planted and where Adam had faced Satan and fled, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent, frees mankind from the curse of the evil one, and pours forth His blood for His thirsty flock.
EVE RESTORED IN MARY
In the new creation of Saint John’s gospel, Mary does what Eve should have done: she speaks with “the person for whose sake she came into being, with whom she shared everything on equal terms, and whose helpmate she had been made.”[xxiv] Like the noble Joseph of old, savior of the world,[xxv] of whom Pharaoh says “what he says to you, do,” (Gen. 41:55) so now the true Savior of the world, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, promises at the request of His Queen Mother to provide His flesh and blood as food for the life of the starving world. Now Adam does not remain silent like the Adam of old, the failed bridegroom in Saint John’s narrative. Rather, He speaks the words of love to His new bride.[xxvi]
THE WEDDING FEAST RESTORED
Following this intimate exchange between Mother and Son, the results of the covenant are immediately brought forth. In fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies that Jerusalem will be flooded with wine, the six Jars of purification are filled to the “brim” (Jn. 2:7).[xxvii] The fruitfulness of Eden has finally come to pass. The result is literally overwhelming: the guests have already “drunk freely” (mequsqwsin, Jn. 2:10) and now they begin to consume the miraculous wine, enjoying the holy inebriation and recognizing Jesus in the “sign” that He has worked (Jn. 2:11). In believing in Jesus at the wedding at Cana, the disciples have been given the grace referred to in Saint John’s prologue, the “power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). They have beheld “his glory” and have themselves been changed “into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18), experiencing in this event the beginning of the restoration of Adam within mankind. Like Jonathan, son of King Saul, whose eyes were opened by the miraculous honey (1 Sm. 14-24-27),so now the eyes of the followers of Jesus are opened through the miracle of the wine. They see Jesus, the New Adam, restored as the Son of God, and Eve restored as the mother of life, under the veil of Mary.
Without a proper understanding of the marital character of the great Sabbath day of Creation, both the intent of the subtle construction as well as the contextual importance of Saint John’s Gospel is lost. Without an understanding of the covenantal character of the union between God and Man, which parallels the relation of man and woman, the words of Our Lord to His mother “What is this to you and to me,” could be mistaken as words of rebuke rather than words of love. Without a careful reading of the beginning of chapter three of Genesis, Mary’s intercession at Cana, “They have no wine,” becomes superficial. Without a proper understanding of the relation between Adam and the Ancient Dragon, the words of Jesus, “My hour has not yet come,” become only a literary construction pointing to future events, with no real significance for the text at hand. With a proper reading of Genesis 1-3, the modern Christian may dive deep into the infinite riches of the Gospel story and draw forth the jewels of great price.
With the proper interpretation of the fall in Eden applied to the Cana narrative, we understand the role of Mary in the new creation, a role without which Salvation would not have come to the world. If Eve does not become again the “mother of all the living,” Adam will be destined to death. It is only with a proper understanding of Mary, the New Eve, that we may truly understand “the one for whom she had been made.”[xxviii] Let us place ourselves in the Garden of Eden and see Eve restored in Mary. Let us gaze upon the Tree of the Cross and see the Deceptive Serpent hiss as the New Adam crushes his head. Let us see Adam pluck from the Tree of Life and feed His bride, the New Eve, at the wedding at Cana in order that she may live, and that we may live through her.
Hail, O Restoration of the fallen Adam!
Hail, O Redemption of the fallen Eve!
Hail, O Soil whose Fruit shall not Perish!
Hail, O Tender of mankind’s loving Tender!
Hail, O Gardener of the Gardener of Life!
Hail, O Key to the Doors of Paradise!
Hail, O Downfall of the demons!
Hail, O You who crushed the error of deceit!
Hail, O You who flow with milk and honey!
Hail, O Tree from whom believers feed!
Hail, O You through whom transgression was erased!
Hail, O You through whom Paradise was opened!
Hail, O Principle of the new creation!
Hail, O Virgin and Bride ever pure![xxix]
[i]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 193.
[ii]Rev. Francis Spirago, The Catechism Explained (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1993), 169-170.
[iii] Vatican II, Dei Verbum (18 November 1965), 1981 edition: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Boston, Mass.: Daughters of Saint Paul, 1975), 15.
[iv] Ibid., 489.
[v] John Henry Newman, as quoted in Mary – the Second Eve, a compilation of the writings of John Henry Newman, compiled by Sister Eileen Breen, F.M.A., (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1982), 2.
[vi]“In interpreting a gospel passage, we must always keep in mind the main themes of the evangelist and how he uses his material, fitting them into the larger context of his themes.” Paul Hinnebusch, Jesus, the New Elijah (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1978), 67.
[vii] The parallel between the opening words of Genesis and the opening words of the Gospel of John is further enforced by the absence of the definite article in the Gospel phrase en arch, which echoes the Hebrew tyvarb. By dropping the definite article, which the Greek language does provide, Saint John is mimicking the Hebrew text of Genesis which does not provide for its use.
[viii] “A chiasm introduces a pattern and then reverses it . . . with a single element at the center.” [Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Alexander & David Baker, ( Downers Grove. Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 541b.]
[ix] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 167-168.
[x] David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler, Texas: Reconstruction Press, 1985), 62. Also see Carson, 168.
[xi] This practice is opposite to the medieval practice of the father of the bride offering a dowry with his daughter. In the ancient Semitic cultures the bridegroom made an offering to the family of the bride (cf. Gen. 24:52, 29:18).
[xii] D. A. Carson, 169.
[xiii] It is no accident that it was the wine that had failed, for the fruit of the vine has always been considered to be one of the most important fruits in the Garden of Eden, and thus a symbol of the restoration of Eden in the Messianic age. Throughout the descriptive texts of the Holy Land and the Temple the references to grapes and grape vines are numerous (Gen.9:20, 49:11, Dt. 8:8, 23:24, Num 13:17).
[xiv] The role of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the New Eve, the bride, is an aspect that touches upon the maternal character of the old Eve considered above (see footnote 42 of week I). Gambero explains, “the soteriological perspective arouses interest in Mary’s personal condition, so that some of her more proper prerogatives (for example, her divine motherhood and her virginity) could be brought out. Indeed, these are the two Marian prerogatives directly suggested by the Eve-Mary parallel, because both women were virgins up until receiving the divine proposal, and then both became mothers” (Gambero, 47). The divine proposal in the case of Mary is the annunciation and in the case of Eve is the moment of the deathly conversation with the serpent. Justin Martyr states that “Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, gave birth to disobedience and death after listening to the serpent’s words” (Dialogue with Trypho 100; PG 6, 709-12). In the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary reverses the actions of Eve who offered the forbidden fruit to Adam. Instead of offering fruit to Adam, Mary, the New Eve, asks the New Adam for the fruit that gives life. The view of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the bride of her Son is a characteristic very difficult to grasp when considered outside of her role in relation to mankind. When considering the bridal character of Mary we must see her motherhood not primarily in relation to her Son but rather in relation to the rest of mankind. At the wedding at Cana, Mary becomes the advocate for all of the guests at the feast, especially the disciples, in relation to whom she may rightly be called the “mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20), for it is in partaking of the miraculous wine and seeing Jesus in the miracle that he performed that they are said for the first time to “[believe] in him” (Jn. 2:11). It is in this aspect that Mary fulfills in her person the Old Testament office of Queen Mother (Giberah; see 1 Kgs. 15:13, 1 Kgs. 2:13), which is very fitted to the narrative of John’s Gospel, which focus’ upon Jesus’ royal anointing at his Baptism (Jn. 1:32-33, 1:41).
It has also been suggested that the relationship of mother and son as bride and bridegroom was expected by the Jews based upon the prophecy of Isaiah (62:4-5). The prophet Isaiah proclaims the word of God, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is. 62:4-5). In this text Israel is called the bride of God, a God who is her Son and Bridegrooom.
[xv] The New Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969).
[xvi] R.A. Knox Bible, The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, A New Translation (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950).
[xvii] “The title ‘woman’ becomes more understandable in the background of Genesis. . . . In this light we can compare the woman in the Garden of Eden who led Adam to the first evil act with the woman at Cana who leads the new Adam to his first glorious work. . . In calling his mother ‘woman,’ Jesus may well be identifying her with the new Eve who will be the mother of his disciples as the old Eve was the ‘mother of all the living.’” Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The New Testament Reading Guide: The Gospel of St. John; The Johannine Epistles (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1965), 23.
[xviii] “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.”
When Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.” So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set apart?” He said, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there both of them swore an oath. So they made a covenant at Beer-sheba” (Gen. 21:22-32). Also see: Gen. 9:12, 17:2, 17:10, 31:44.
[xix] Gen. 23:16.
[xx] Scott Hahn, The Gospel of John: A Scott Hahn Bible Study (West Covina, Cal.: St. Joseph Communications, n.d.), audio tape series, tape 3. Also see Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The Gospel of John (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 20.
[xxi] In this aspect of Mary’s role we may rightly see her as the representative of the Church. She, like the Church, must be fed and protected by the New Adam (Eph. 5:21-33). Also see endnote 14.
[xxii] Chilton, Paradise Restored, 42.
[xxiii] See week I, An Unintended Covenant; the Fall.
[xxiv] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies On Genesis (16.5). See note 25.
[xxv] Gen. 41:45. The Egyptian name “Zaphenathpaneah” which Joseph received from Pharoah means “Savior of the world.”
[xxvi] Notice that the failed bridegroom of the Cana narrative remains silent like Adam of old.
[xxvii]C.f. Joel 3:18, Is. 25:6, Jer. 31:12, Hos. 14:7, Amos 9:13, Enoch 10:19.
[xxviii] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies On Genesis (16.5). See Week I, An Unintended Covenant; the Fall.
[xxix]“Akathist Hymn,” in Great Lent (West Newton, Mass.: Melkite Exarchate, 1971), 29-54 selected lines.