Turning water into wine is the keynote signature sign of John’s gospel – the first and most important sign that all other signs refer back to – and it is the sign that encapsulates the Christian gospel without tying it down to specifics. It is wonderfully open and pregnant with possibilities and potential.
The water that is our life will be transformed into fine rich wine when God is recognised as being an intimate part of life.
Water that is transformed into wine is a visual representation of “life in all its fullness”. It is a story of before and after, of old and new. Very cleverly it says also that the old religion of Israel of rites and obligations and ritual cleanliness represented by the six stone water jars will also be transcended by a way of relating to God that is personal and unmediated by priests and sacrifices.
There are six stone water jars used for ritual purification, and six is significant because six in Hebrew thought is the number of imperfection. Imperfect religion will also be transformed. Our way of relating to God is water that will be transformed into wine.
The old order is also represented by Mary his mother. Blood ties and family obligations were extremely important in first century Palestine. But they were also restricting. People are often a bit taken aback by the way Jesus speaks to his mother in this story. “Woman, what have you to do with me?”
In the new order of relationships to be ushered in, the restrictive nature of family bonds is to be broken. If you remember the story from another place when Mary and his brothers and sisters came looking for him, he looked at his disciples and said, “Who are my mother and sisters and brothers – these disciples here, those who do the will of the Father are my mother and sister and brothers”.
Jesus is not anti-family. What he is in fact saying is that those special familial bonds and obligations of love and support are not to be restricted to mere blood family ties but extended to include our neighbours. Our relationships are the water being transformed into wine.
Our perception of who is our neighbour is transformed. We are all brothers and sisters because our understanding of God is transformed from being a distant deity to that of a Father so people are our brothers and sisters. Our perception of humanity and reality is water that is transformed into wine.
This keynote sign is a symbol of the Christian gospel. What is Christianity? It is to experience God as Father and to have the water of our own lives transformed into fine wine, that we might have fullness of life.