Water into wine at Cana



Use your own words to offer this meditation to God.

Bible reading

Read John 2:1-11.

Background information/commentary

Cana of Galilee

There are two sites which could have been the location of the Cana of Galilee mentioned in St John’s Gospel.  One is Kafr Cana which lies four miles northeast of Nazareth.  This is the traditional site of Cana in Galilee and there is a small Franciscan church on the site commemorating the miracle.

The other possibility is Khirbet Cana, nine miles north of Nazareth.  Archaeological evidence from the time of Jesus has been found at this site, including a few fragments of small stone vessels.  However, more recent archaeological excavations on the outskirts of the traditional site at Kafr Cana have found evidence of a large Jewish settlement from the time of Jesus.  Furthermore, fragments of large stone vessels, such as those mentioned by John, have been found. (1)

The stone water jars

Excavations across Israel have revealed stone vessels in the first century AD levels.  They are distinctly Jewish and formed an important part of the Jewish purification rites during the time of Jesus.  Interestingly, large stone vessels are typically only found in urban sites and wealthy homes.  So the marriage feast at Cana took place in an upper class home.  Stone vessels were made from soft limestone quarried in Galilee and made into vessels of different sizes: mugs, cups and jars.  Very large jars were made on lathes powered by two men.  Vessels made out of stone were regarded as being impervious to impurity.  Stone lids were also made to ensure ritual cleanness of the contents (2)

Jewish weddings

Jewish wedding feasts were celebrated with much rejoicing and lasted from three to eight days depending on the couple’s circumstances.  As already mentioned, the large stone jars indicate a well-to-do family.  This is supported by the fact that, at the wedding feast attended by Jesus, a large amount of water was required for ritual purification (washing of hands).  Moreover, the wedding feast had a master of ceremonies (the chief steward or governor of the feast).  At the wedding feast the guests ate and drank freely and copiously (3) and it was a serious failure of hospitality to run short of wine. (4)

The third day

Wednesday was the third day of the week for Jews and it was the normal day for the marriage of a virgin. (5) It is also possible that this means the wedding took place on the third day after the date last given in John 1:43. (6)

Signs in St John’s Gospel

In St John’s Gospel the miracles of Jesus are referred to as ’signs’, that is, they point to a truth far more important than the acts themselves. (7) Only seven signs are recorded in St John’s Gospel and the marriage feast at Cana was the setting for the first of these signs.  It is described only in St John’s Gospel.

We know that John was selective in what he included in his Gospel and we know how he made his selection: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (NRSV, John 20:30).

The fact that John refers to ‘signs’ with their deeper meanings, does not, however, imply that the events he describes were unreal and did not actually happen.  On the contrary, he is careful to state at the end of his Gospel: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true” (NRSV, John 21:24).  This “witness” language is paralleled by the “witness” language used of St John Baptist at the beginning of this Gospel: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light” (NRSV, John 1:6-8). (8) 

When we read the account of this sign, we cannot fail to notice the concrete details we are given.  There is the mention of the geographical location in Cana of Galilee, the temporal reference to the third day, the social occasion of the marriage feast along with details of invitations to Mary, Jesus and his disciples.  All of these point to a real event that happened in the presence of eyewitnesses.


Jesus and Mary

For the first 30 years of his life, Jesus lived at home in Nazareth, working in the carpenter’s shop with Joseph, his step-father.  The fact that Joseph was not at the wedding feast suggests that by then he had died and Mary was a widow, relying all the more on her Son for support and comfort.  How close Jesus and Mary must have been, how many joys and sorrows and concerns they must have shared and how well they knew each other.

And then Jesus started his public ministry and Mary had to let him go.  He had been away in the area to the north of the Lake of Galilee where John was baptising, and Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael had become his disciples.  But Mary hadn’t lost touch with Jesus and she must have looked forward with great joy at the thought of seeing him again when he returned to Galilee.  And the reunion took place at the marriage feast at Cana, to which Mary, Jesus and his disciples were invited.

They have no wine

What a wonderfully joyful occasion it is – the happy talking, laughter, eating and drinking!  But then Mary becomes aware that behind the scenes all is not well and a most embarrassing situation has arisen – the wine has run out with the celebrations still in full swing.  Mary does not stand around wringing her hands, she goes straight to Jesus and tells him, “They have no wine”.  In reply Jesus says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come” (NRSV, John 2:4).

The term “woman” is a solemn term of affection or respect. (9) As to “my hour”, Jesus will use these words at other times in his ministry, most poignantly towards its end: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (NRSV, John 13:1).  This clearly refers to his death on the Cross when he gave himself completely for the salvation of humankind.  At the wedding feast that time has not yet come.  But in using these words Jesus is making a connection between the present moment and his death on the Cross. (10)

Water changed to wine

Then with calm and steadfast confidence Mary says to the servants “Do whatever he tells you” (NRSV, John 2:5).  And Jesus responds at once and tells the servants to fill the stone water-jars with water.  Unquestioningly they set to and fill them up to the brim – six jars, each containing 20-30 gallons.  Then in response to Jesus’ instruction, they draw some out and take it to the chief steward who recognises that this is better wine than that which was served at the start of the festivities. 

And so Jesus revealed his glory and “his disciples believed in him” (NRSV, John 2:11).


Take some time to think about this event.  What do you learn from Mary’s part in it and that of the servants?  What does it tell you about Jesus himself?  Write down your thoughts in a notebook.

Mary’s example

Mary showed great sensitivity and compassion to the wedding couple and complete confidence in Jesus.  She didn’t use lots of words, she just simply brought the problem to him, “They have no wine”.  So when we are worried or weighed down with problems, we can use the same simple, direct approach, confident that in his good time Jesus will guide us to do the right thing.

We can learn something else from Mary.  Years before, that brave little handmaid (servant) of the Lord had obeyed the call to be the mother of God’s Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ (Luke 1:38). (11) At Cana she invited the servants to obey her Son: “Do whatever he tells you” (NRSV, John 2:5).  So today, Christians are called to obey the teaching of Jesus.

The servants’ example

The servants are a model of trusting obedience and generous service.  They didn’t question what seemed an extraordinary instruction but worked tirelessly to fill the water-jars.  There was nothing half-hearted about what they did – they held nothing back and filled the jars to the brim.  Christians are called to be as faithful and generous as they were.


At one level, we see Jesus at the start of his ministry joining in a happy human occasion and showing by his presence that he blesses love between a man and a woman joined in marriage. (12) The amount of wine was huge and amounted to a delayed wedding present to the couple (13) which could have been sold to provide some useful funds for them at the start of their married life.

At a deeper level, the abundance of wine is a sign of God’s overflowing generosity which led him to bring about the salvation of humankind.  So although the hour of Jesus’ death of the Cross was some way in the future, the “superabundance of Cana is…a sign that God’s…self-giving for men, has begun”. (14) It a sign that Jesus is the Messiah and the generous amount of wine is in keeping with the idea of the Messianic banquet.  The prophets had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah which would be characterised by plentiful amounts of wine: “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when…the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it” (NRSV, Amos 9:13). 

So too, at a deeper level, the initial words “on the third day” take on a more profound meaning.  They point us back to the Old Testament in which the third day is a time for theophany, the appearance of God: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning…Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire…” (NRSV, Exodus 19:16,17,18).  And Cana also prefigures “history’s final and decisive theophany: the Resurrection of Christ on the third day…”. (15)  The transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana is therefore an example of one of those times when “heaven and earth intersect”. (16)

Transformation is an important concept in thinking about this sign.  The use of water for purification according to the Jewish Law was a ritual which could never make people really “pure” for God. (17) By changing the water into wine Jesus signified the transformation of the Jewish religion into the Christian religion so that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (NRSV, John 1:12).  And still today, to those who come to him, Jesus can and does give power to become the sort of people God intends them to be, changing them into his likeness.


Spend some time praying for your own needs and the needs of others.


Looking ahead

Think about what action you could now take in the light of your reading and reflection.  Decide what to do and write it down as a promise to God.

You may wish to end by asking God to help you keep your promise.


1. Reed, J.L. (2007) The HarperCollins visual guide to the New Testament.  What archaeology reveals about the first Christians, New York: HarperCollins.

2. Reed, J.L. (2007) The HarperCollins visual guide to the New Testament.  What archaeology reveals about the first Christians, New York: HarperCollins.

3. Daniel-Rops, H. (1955) Jesus in his time,  London: Eyre and Spottiswoode Publishers Ltd.

4. Bouquet, A.C. (1953) Everyday life in New Testament times, London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.

5. Daniel-Rops, H. (1955) Jesus in his time.  London: Eyre and Spottiswoode Publishers Ltd.

6. McIntyre, J. (1899) The Holy Gospel according to St John, London: Catholic Truth Society.

7. Royster, D. (Archbishop Dmitri) (1999) The miracles of Christ, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

8. Bauckham, R. (2006) Jesus and the eyewitnesses.  The Gospels as eyewitness testimony, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

9. McIntyre, J. (1899) The Holy Gospel according to St John, London: Catholic Truth Society.

10. Ratzinger, J. (2008) Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury.

11. Goodier, A. (1930) The public life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Volume one, London and Dublin: Burns Oates.

12. Navarre Bible (2008) (2nd edition) Commentary on St John’s Gospel, Dublin: Four Courts Press.

13. Knox, R. and Cox, R. (1958) The Gospel story, London: Burns & Oates.

14. Ratzinger, J. (2008) Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury.

15. Ratzinger, J. (2008) Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury.

16. Wright, T. (2004) John for everyone.  Part 1, London:SPCK.

17. Ratzinger, J. (2008) Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury.