2:1-11 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. (NASB)
There is an 80s comedy (sometimes not so funny - more poignant, but I'm digressing already) called Butterflies. It is about a woman in a staid marriage who can never quite bring herself to become adulterously involved with another man. The title of this post is taken from the title song, but the post has nothing else to do with the show.
But I often think of this song when I think of butterflies (the woman's husband collected them as I do). Butterflies are very attractive invertebrates who start life upon hatching as caterpillars, which some people don't find at all attractive (they are after all, a mouth, an anus, a gut and legs for carrying about said eating/defecating apparatus). Now the normal cycle of butterflies and a good many other insects is to go through a total metamorphosis into something new, from caterpillar to butterfly. Now imagine if this doesn't happen? Some larvae get parasitised by wasps and never hatch. But no caterpillar decides to stay that way.
Israel were called to be God's people and a light to the other nations. There were things that marked them apart, like ritual washing. There were a lot of rules for washing, especially for priests. Purity was very important, and there was less of a distinction between sin and ritual purity that we might think of these days. This was God ordained, and people were to take this seriously, for it said much about the holy nature of God, and the less than holy nature of people. Of course these days what might have made us unclean back then now is simply a matter of hygiene. What was done then certainly marked Jews apart from others.
The key to understanding the taking of stone pots used for ritual washing and making wine in them is that in Jesus, purity is now a matter just of the heart and his atoning for sin. The outward signs were useful and God appointed in their time (and yes some by the tradition of the elders), but if something is a stage through which one passes, one doesn't linger any longer than necessary. You don't get to your holiday destination and then spend your holiday on the plane; the caterpillar is meant to become the butterfly.
So Jesus makes a great feasting, echoing parables of the great end times feast because in him, the husband of Israel spoken of in Hosea 2 is the bridegroom in Mark 2; Jesus. He celebrates with the whole village a wedding, but knows a greater wedding feast is now shown preemptively in his sign of turning water into wine (I now have Salisbury Hill by Peter Gabriel running through my head - listen to the lyrics and you'll know why).
We then want to avoid the creeping scepticism that says water can't be turned into wine - that's giving up on the idea of a God who can act before we start. And when we realize the Father of the Bride (another cultural reference, get it?) was providing for extended families and the whole village, would have started saving wine when his daughter was born and would have been publicly embarrassed by the wine running out, we can avoid the other end of things that insists Jesus didn't create alcoholic wine. He wasn't encouraging drunkenness but celebration. It matters this miracle (sorry sign) happened and it matters it was real wine.
So what for us? It would be too quick to jump to me and Jesus with something pithy about inner transformation, but it's very true that sinners are turned into saints by Jesus (while still being sinners, with thanks to Martin Luther). Jesus came so that we could be pure, from the inside out. Ritual can always illustrate, enlighten or help to deepen this, but without the transforming work of Jesus through the Spirit, purity is an illusion - the days of the division between Jew and Gentile is gone. Our purity can't be based upon our own efforts or association with religious traditions - else it becomes something designed to divide. Yet we become part of a community of those being made pure. And I'm thankful especially with the brothers I meet with weekly who help with and remind me of that.