The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday January 21, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Growing up we didn’t have wine in our house. We didn’t have it in church either – for communion, we’d pass around trays of tiny shot glasses of grape juice instead.

I had a vague awareness from books and movies that wine was more of a category than a single product. It could be red or white, cheap or expensive. It could have “rich tannins” or “hints of oak.”

When I first started drinking wine, I thought it pretty much all tasted disgusting.

And then one day, some friends took me to a wine tasting and I was able to spend an evening going around with a trained sommelier who tried to teach me about wine.  She’d patiently say, “Now this one, this one is lovely with notes of cherries and cinnamon. Swirl your glass and smell. Can you smell the cherries? The cinnamon?”


“How about this one, it’s more floral. Can you smell the difference? Can you taste it?”


Slowly, however, I began to pick up on a few things. I began to be able to notice that one wine smelled different than another, but I definitely couldn’t accurately identify those differences. And I still can’t.

Tonight’s gospel is about transformation. It’s a story about water that becomes wine, and exceptionally good wine at that. It’s a story about people who are slowly beginning to understand who Jesus is.   They are beginning to realize that there is “something different about that kid from Nazareth,” even if they can’t identify exactly what that difference is.

It’s also the story of a mother and her son. Mary has been carefully watching and interacting with her son Jesus throughout his entire life and she’s able to pick up on all the subtle nuances of who he is and who he is becoming. She can detect the “strong notes of divinity” in him.

John’s gospel is full of “tasting notes” meant to help us identify Jesus’ character. John calls these notes “signs,” and today’s gospel reading is the first of seven signs that he writes about. Rather than simply providing us with a list of Jesus’ character traits, he gives us a series of stories that show, rather than tell, us exactly who Jesus is. Each sign helps us “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

The reading begins, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…”

In the first chapter of John, we read about a series of events that all begin with the phrase “the next day.” John is telling the people about Jesus and then “the next day,” he sees Jesus, and then “the next day” several of John’s followers decide to follow Jesus, and then “the next day” they go to Galilee and then, in the second chapter, instead of continuing with this particular grammatical construction, John switches to say, “on the third day.” [1]

John will use this phrase again towards the end of the gospel and I think he is purposely making a connection between this sign and Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day.”

This story has “subtle hints of Easter.”

The wedding doesn’t take place in Jesus’ hometown, it takes place in Cana. Cana is not in Judea, it’s in Galilee, and Galilee was known for it’s “thieves, rebels, and Gentiles.”[2]

The location of the wedding highlights that Jesus did not come to build walls or to shore up boundaries between countries, between religions, or between ethnic groups. He came to show that those kinds of boundaries are not relevant in God’s kingdom.

A wedding was an important community event, a celebration that likely involved everyone in the village and at least some people from neighbouring villages as well – Mary, her son, and his friends have all been invited for example.

Running out of wine at a wedding wasn’t just an unfortunate mistake. It was disgraceful: it could easily be seen as a bad omen about the future of the marriage they were all gathered to celebrate.

But even though running out of wine at a wedding was a serious problem, it still seems like an odd thing for Jesus Christ, the savior of the entire world, to concern himself with.  Surely wine at a local wedding is a job for middle management.

But he does choose to become involved, and that choice points to several other things about his character.

Firstly, Jesus is a man who listens to women. This may be the first, but it won’t be the last time a woman will change Jesus’ mind in the gospels.

I’ve been thinking about Mary all week as I have been preparing this sermon. If anyone ever tells you that the Bible isn’t funny, just show them this exchange between Jesus and his mother, because it’s hilarious.

Mary, noticing that the hosts have run out of wine, points out the situation to Jesus whose reply is basically, “How is that my problem? They should have hired a better catering company,” and Mary doesn’t even dignify his comment with a response. She just turns to the servants, instructs them to do whatever Jesus tell them to do and leaves, knowing full well that her kid is going to take care of the situation whether he wants to or not.

I love the trust and confidence that she displays in this interaction. She doesn’t need to debate or argue or plead. She just states the need and trusts that Jesus will take care of it.

She has been watching Jesus carefully for his entire life and she knows who he is and that knowing, that deep knowing, has resulted in a deep sense of safety and trust.

It’s something I admire, even if I can’t always manage to emulate it.

Jesus’s choice to get involved in the menu at a wedding is also a sign that his compassionate nature will regularly lead him to engage with people in need in surprising ways.

Not unlike a fine wine that, after you’ve swirled it around in your glass a few times begins to open up and reveal complex flavours you weren’t expecting.

And how does Jesus re-stock the wine supplies for this wedding? Does he create new wine jugs out of thin air?


We know the people have consumed all the available wine, does Jesus have the servants collect those empty jugs so he can re-fill them?


He doesn’t use vessels meant for wine at all, instead he chooses water jugs used for Jewish purification rites.   Here is another complex flavour in John’s account. NT Wright points out that Jesus is doing some new “within the old Jewish system, bringing purification to Israel and the world in a whole new way.” (Commentary on John, 22)

Six water jugs, each meant to hold 20-30 gallons of water filled to the brim with the best wine. Jesus’ actions are also characterized by abundance. He doesn’t create a few bottles of wine and tell the servants to make do, he creates more than enough and of the finest quality.

Jesus’ first miracle affects a large number of people, but is only noticed by a small handful. We’re not told about the panicked bride and groom tearfully yelling at their parents because not only has their poor planning ruined their wedding, it’s a bad omen over their entire marriage. We’re not given scenes of parents who are shocked and perhaps a little disgusted by guests who are guzzling wine so quickly they couldn’t possibly have predicted how much to order. We not given a scene later in the story where any of the guests realize just how good and plentiful the wine at this wedding has become.

Mary is the only person we know for sure even noticed that the wine was running out. The only recorded reaction we have about the replacement wine comes from a servant, the steward, and even he has no idea where the wine came from because none of the servants tell him. Throughout the gospels, people who would typically be the least important are the ones who consistently possess the insider knowledge of what Jesus is capable of.

This is not a flashy show of Jesus’ power performed to a large crowd, even though a large crowd was readily available. It’s a quiet miracle. Performed by servants in a back room.

I’ve said this before, but one thing I find so interesting about biblical stories, is that so much of our interpretation of a story depends on the tone of voice we choose to ascribe to individual characters. And that tone is almost always someone we have to choose to add, it’s usually not written into the text.

I’ve heard this story my entire life and always thought that when the steward says to the groom “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,” that he is paying the groom a compliment. (11)

But it was recently pointed out to me that there is no reason to assume it’s a compliment at all. In fact, it equally likely, more likely even, that the steward is throwing some “serious shade.”[3]

People who have consumed a lot of wine don’t have the most sophisticated palates. They can’t appreciate good wine so it’s silly to serve it to them. It makes every kind of sense to serve the best wine first and move to the inferior quality product when not only are people less likely to care, there are less likely to notice.

Isn’t it a waste to give such high quality wine to people who can’t even appreciate it?

But Jesus doesn’t think like the steward, or like me for that matter. Jesus always gives us the best, not because we are worthy but in the midst of our unworthiness.

Jesus always gives us the best even when he knows we won’t be able to fully appreciate it.

God feeds us and satisfies our thirst even when we can’t fully appreciate the quality of the wine. God doesn’t wait for us to become worthy because we never will be. We’re all unworthy.

And God loves us anyway.

Unfortunately the church has a pretty terrible track record of thinking that God is more like the steward than like Jesus.

We have a vast storehouse of great wine but oftentimes, we act like all we have are empty jars or the cheapest wine.

Many of us saw a horrific example of this yesterday in video footage that exploded across social media of students from a Catholic high school who were shockingly disrespectful to an indigenous elder in Washington DC.   Young people who somehow got the message that on a field trip with their Christian school, it was a good idea to spend their time engaging in the sort of ugly behavior that builds up walls and creates divisions between people.

Their actions leave a bitter, acidic taste in my mouth. They don’t taste anything like Jesus.

That wise elder responded with a quiet dignity I can only hope I will someday have the grace and maturity to emulate. In his actions, we can taste the finest wine.

Those kids behaved in ways that make me so very sad, and angry, and in that rush of emotions I have the temptation to build my own new set of walls, to say, ‘Those kids are not welcome at Christ’s table.”

But those kids don’t need to be excluded from Christ’s table and I don’t get to make that decision. They need someone to show them that the swill they have been consuming is indeed garbage and that, in Christ Jesus, we have a story and a way of living that tastes so much better.

All are welcomed without exception at Christ’s table because it is God’s table and not our own. The table has been set with an abundant feast of the highest quality. We are all welcome at this table, no matter what we have done, no matter how unworthy we feel.

At the table we are offered a taste of what God is like.

So come, taste and see. The Lord is good.


[1] Which means this is actually a series of 4 days, 3 that Jesus was present for.

[2] Roy Harrisville

[3] Thanks to Reagan Humber at HFASS for the image of the steward with attitude.