This Sunday, in the Revised Common Lectionary, the Gospel reading is from the second chapter of John about Jesus’ first miracle; turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. It is the third of three traditional Epiphany readings also including the visit of the Magi and the baptism of Jesus. Each of these events are early appearances of Jesus in the Gospels. They each are revelations or manifestations of the Christ, thus “epiphany.”
In studying the Gospel reading for this Sunday, I noted a few questions. First, what is the significance of the jars being for ceremonial cleansing? If you think about it, John gives us quite a bit of detail about these jars. Not only what they are for, but how many there were and how big they were. I don’t think we have that kind of detail on any items related to a miracle anywhere else in the New Testament. We know five loaves and two fish, but we don’t know what kind of bread or fish.
As I had anticipated, several commentators picked up on the jars and their significance and possible symbolism. My next question became, who was getting married?
We know Jesus, his mother and his newly-recruited disciples were in attendance, but we don’t know who was tying the knot. Mary seems pretty attune to the conduct of the reception; she is the one to notice the wine running dry. A few commentators noted that it was the groom’s responsibility to supply the wine for the reception. This explains why the master of ceremonies calls the groom when he tastes the new wine and chastises him for serving in a reverse order of the custom.
This got me to thinking. Is there a connection between Mary’s interest and the groom? Was there a family connection? Could this even have been a brother of Jesus? I know my Catholic friends hold Mary as a perpetual virgin, but if I recall correctly, they assent that Jesus had brothers. The Gospels tell us as much, though Catholics may disagree as to whether or not Mary bore them. (One theory is that Joseph had children from a previous marriage.)
Either way, it seems plausible that there was some family connection for Mary, Jesus, and the disciples to be there. Mary’s concern over the wine makes me wonder if it wasn’t a close connection. All of this is conjecture and speculation, of course. None of it really matters in the interpretation of the story, but I find it interesting to contemplate.
Of course, Mary and Jesus being there gives us a notable absence: Joseph. I have long wondered about Joseph. He plays a key role in the nativity. He is portrayed as present but not engaged when Jesus was in the temple at age 12. Then he disappears from the Gospel narratives.
I wonder what it must have been like for Joseph to be the husband of Mary and assumed father of Jesus. It certainly seems he got more than he bargained for when the betrothment was first agreed upon. Angels, a scandalous pregnancy, visits from eastern astrologers, death threats, more angels, fleeing to Egypt, a son who could hold his own with the learned teachers in the temple. A son who called God his Father.
Most people speculate that Joseph was older than Mary and that he died at some point between the incident in the temple and the wedding in Cana. We don’t know. The Gospels are provocatively silent on this detail. I find myself, usually in Epiphany, wondering about Joseph and what happened, what he thought, how his life played out.
Someday, perhaps I’ll have opportunity to listen to his story. At a wedding supper. With what promises to be some great wine if history is any clue.