The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (John 2:1–4:54)

A. The first sign: the wedding at Cana (2:1–12);
B. The cleansing of the temple: the promise of the seventh sign (2:13–25);
C. Nicodemus, new birth, and the unique Son (3:1–21);
D. The Baptist, the true Bridegroom, and the friend of the Bridegroom (3:22–36);
E. The Samaritan woman, living water, and true worshippers (4:1–42);
F. The second sign: the healing of the royal official’s son (4:43–54).

The sign at Cana 2:1–12

The sign at Cana is the first recorded work of God in the world.

The narratives can be divided into four parts:

  1. Invitation to a wedding in Cana (2:1–3);
  2. Jesus, his Mother, and a shortage of Wine (2:4);
  3. Purification water becomes wine (2:5–8);
  4. The first sign of Jesus’ glory and faith of his disciples (2:9–11).

Cana, the home of Nathanael (21:2) has been traditionally identified with today’s Kefr Kenna, about 6.5 km from Nazareth. However, some favour another location, a ruined village located 14.5 km north of Nazareth known as Khirbet Qana based on the writings of Josephus (Life, 86.207).

Mary, the mother of Jesus appears twice in the Gospel (cf. John 19:25–27). It is significant that her presence is mentioned there. It is also significant that her name is never mentioned but Jesus twice addresses her as “woman”. As “Woman” she symbolises New Eve (cf. Rev 12:1), the Church - the obedient people of God.

Notice also the connection between Ex 24:3; 19:8; 24:7 - “We will do everything that the Lord has told us” and the instruction of Mary given to the servants: “Do whatever he will tell you” (John 2:5).

What she asks as to do, she did in her own life (cf Luke 1:38).

2:1 “On the third day”.

It seems that John aims to present a new creative work of God in the world, by his usage of “days”.

Day 1: 1:19–28;
Day 2: 1:29–34 (“on the next day”);
Day 3: 1:35–42 (“on the next day”);
Day 4: 1:43–51 (“on the next day”);
(Day 5?) : 6:21 (“on the next day”); - “the bread from heaven” discourse.
(Day 6?): 12:12 (“on the next day”); (see John 19:5) - “Behold, the man!”
Day 7: 2:1–11 ((“on the third day”);

Some scholars count the days differently, taking the phrase “on the third day” to mean “two days later ” and stating 2:1 as the sixth day from the call of Nathanael.

Ex 19:16 (see Ex 19:11, 15). “On the morning of the third day” the Lord appears on Mount Sinai in his awesome power and reveals his “glory” (Deut 5:24).

Ex 19:10–11: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”

God’s giving of the Torah and the covenant at Mount Sinai came to be commemorated liturgically on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Based on the phrase “on the third day” some scholars links the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai with the story of wedding at Cana.

According to the custom, wedding celebrations normally lasted seven days. The presence of Mary indicates that it could be a wedding of the relative or close friend of the family.

The point is that the bride is never mentioned in the story and the groom appears only at the very end. This oddity suggests that John sees more in this event than is first visible. Why are the disciples there? In order to see and believe (see John 2:11).

2:3 - Wine played an important part of festive occasions, especially at weddings. Since wedding was about two families, and not just about the couple, to run out of wine would cause a loss of family honour and statues.

But, the story suggest that the wine has spiritual meaning beyond simply being the drink required at the wedding.

Why is Mary the one to notice the problem? What kind of role did she play in that wedding?
And how does she know that Jesus can find a solution? Here, we have an insight to the deep relationship between Jesus and his mother based on long experience of living together. She knew something what others could not know yet.

2:4 - “What to me and to you, woman?” (Literally). It is worth to point out that in Greek, the term “woman” carries a tone of respect, and it should be translated as “woman dear”, “madam” or “my lady”.

The scholar did not agree how to translated interpret Jesus’ words.

The phrase “What to me and to you” is a semitic expression found in the OT (Josh 22:24; 2 Sam 16:10; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13) and in the NT (Mt 8:29; Mk 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28). It creates a distance in interest or understanding between two parties.

Some scholars explained this distancing of Jesus from an exclusively mother-son relationship by the event of baptism. The years of silent life in Nazareth where Jesus was obedient to his parents (cf. Luke 2:51) were over. Being anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus entered a new stage of life dedicated to the proclamation of God’s kingdom.

The lack of word “mother” is often viewed in a similar way to the synoptics (see Mk 3:35).

But, in the Gospel of John that is full of symboling and spiritual meaning, the title “woman” has to point to Genesis where Eve is always referred to as “woman” (see Gen 3:15). Thus, at the beginning of the OT there is a woman, and so at the beginning of the NT, there is also a woman. The first woman is called the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20), the ‘new’ woman is the mother of those who by faith in Jesus are born anew to a new life of grace (John 19:25–27).

“My hour has not yet come”.

This is the first time that Jesus speaks of his hour - a frequent topic in this Gospel (4:21,23; 5:25,28; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:2,4,21,25,32; 17:1).

The occurrence before 12:23 point to the future, after 12:23 the hour is depicted as being immediate.

Jesus’ hour is the time of his cross and resurrection, when he fully reveals the Father’s love and accomplishes his saving work.

But, interestingly enough from the grammatical point of view the statement can also be read as a question: “Has not my hour already come?”

In that case, Jesus’ hour would begin now and be accomplished at the cross.


The deep meaning of this passage should be evident. Mary did not know what Jesus could do - the verb “tell” is in subjunctive mood.

  1. Mary is the model disciple. As we already mentioned, her words echo Israel’s response to God’s offer of the covenant (cf. Ex 19:8; see Ex 24:3,7). Mary instructs the servants to listen to her Son as the people Israel listens to the Lord at Sinai.

  2. By first bringing the needs of the wedding host to Jesus and encouraging the servants to be docile and obedient to him, Mary acts as an intermediary between Jesus and the members of the household.


Six stone water-jars - together they could hold from 384 up to 576 litters of water.

The jars were made of stone - apparently unlike the earthenware, stony jars could not get polluted and so they could last long (Lev 11:13).

They were for purification (see Mk 7:3–4). The water would be used by the servants to pour it out over the hands of every guest before the meal.

But, that water also stands for the whole ancient of Jewish ceremonial, which Christ was to replace by something else. The wine symbolises new order of grace.


Two commands of Jesus: (1) fill the jars with water; (2) draw and carry to the person in charged". The servants obey both.

The jars are filled with water to the brim. “Now draw” - what did they draw? Still water? Did the water turned into wine within the jars? The point is that the evangelist does not tell us. The verb used here normally refers to drawing water from a well (cf. John 4:7, 15).

An abundant supply of wine appears in many biblical texts speaking about God’s eschatological act of salvation. When God brings about the definitive salvation of his people, there will great celebration with a superabundance of wine (see Amos 9:13; Joel 4:18).

The “chief steward”? Was he a head waiter in charge of the place where the banquet was held? Some think so and indicate that it was the servants’ duty to take what they had drawn to him before it was served to those reclining at the table. But others think he was one of the invited guests selected to oversee and preside over the celebration - “master of the banquet”.


Usually, at the wedding parties, the bride and groom, and the one in charge of the wedding are the most important people. But, John introduced that story with Mary, and Jesus as the centaur figures to the whole story. The “master of the banquet” and the groom come at the end.

He tasted “the water made wine”. What is the significance of this statement? (Cf. John 1:17).

“He did not know where it came from”. The one in charge of the wedding is actually not in charge here.

But also the phrase prepares us for the statement of the Pharisees in John 9:29.

“The servants who drawn the water”. The statement indicates that the servants drew the water.

They knew that Jesus is the source of this wine.

The quality of wine moved the one in charge of the party to call the bridegroom. Jesus provides the best quality of wine (cf. Is 25:6).


The common practice is proverbial - first the good wine and then the inferior one. Second, he gives the credit for what Jesus did to the bridegroom: “But you have kept the good wine until now”. Interestingly, in John 3:29, Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom (see also Mk 2:19–20).

So, what is the meaning of the narrative?

Through his prophets the Lord promised a definitive act of salvation by which he would redeem his people from sin and renew the covenant. In this seemingly simple event at a wedding, John invites us to see a great mystery:

God’s great, end-time act of salvation to fulfil his promise and renew his covenant is being accomplished in his Son Jesus.

The water of the old covenant at Sinai is not being thrown out, but transformed into the wine of the Gospel of grace and truth.

[There could also a connection between Gen 9:20–21, - the first thing that Noah did after the flood was to plant vineyard and produce wine; the first the the Word made flesh did in the story of a new creation was to ‘produce’ wine].


In 1:14, the evangelist says: “we looked at his glory”.

Through this sign, Jesus manifested his glory and it led the disciples to believe in him. Was it the “first” sign or the “beginning” of the signs yet to come? The word “α͗ρχὴν” can mean both, but here the second meaning is better. The message of the Gospel is connected to several “signs” yet to come.

As the glory of the Lord was revealed to Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16–17), so too at Cana is Jesus’ glory revealed.

It is worth noting that Jesus’ miracles are not mere miracles. They are all signs of some underlying reality. Thus, John always calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” and Jesus calls them his “works” (5:36; 9:3; 10:32, 37; 14:10). These “works” make visible both the character and the power of God who acts in his Son, Jesus Christ.

The signs function as the means by which Jesus “revealed his glory”. They point us to something beyond themselves, so that the reader can discern the identity of Jesus - who he is and what he can (will) do.

The signs supposed to lead to faith in Jesus (John 20:30–31).

Faith in Jesus is able to see the meaning of Jesus’ signs. But, the disciples’ faith reaches maturity only after Jesus’ resurrection, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.


According to Mt 4:13, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. John seems to indicate that either his mother and brothers visited him there after the wedding or that they also moved there (John 6:24, 59).

The statement that they stay there for a short time, may point to the fact that in 2:13, Jesus soon went to Jerusalem.

The order to the list is significant, because it is the inverse of how the account started (cf. 2:1). The account started with Mary, but now Jesus is the first. Then, the “brothers” were added.

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