“The First of His Signs”
Viewed from a Lenten perspective, the water-turned-wine during the wedding at Cana is not about wine or weddings or wine at weddings. It is not even about what mother Mary thought of all this, although Colm Toibin (The Testament of Mary) has a fresh take on that. From a Lenten perspective, the water-turned-wine is the “first of his signs,” John’s sequence of replacements that culminate in death being replaced by new life.
In this Gospel, the new content of six stone jars is just the start. Jesus goes on to speak of a new temple, the temple of his body; a new birth, the second birth of water and spirit; and new health, the healing of the Gentile officer’s son.
The rites of purification fade away like water before wine when the future breaks in with the Messiah. For “the law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (chapter 1). With this first sign of water-turned-wine, the Gospel writer is just warming up to his message of future replacements:
As the water of the Israelite rite is replaced by abundant and choice wine,
so the Jerusalem temple is replaced by Jesus’ body (ch. 2),
so Moses and John the Baptist are replaced by the Messiah himself (ch. 3),
so worship on the Samaritan mountain or in Jerusalem is replaced by worshipping in spirit and truth (ch. 4),
so the unpredictable waters of the Bethesda pool are replaced by the steadfast healing word of Jesus himself (ch. 5), and
so the manna in the Sinai wilderness is replaced by the bread of life himself (ch. 6).
As the water is replaced by choice wine,
so the water of the Feast of Tabernacles is replaced by the living water (ch. 7),
so the great lamps at the temple court are replaced by the “light of the world” (ch. 8), and
so the temple altar dedicated at the Feast of Dedication is replaced by Jesus, dedicated and consecrated and sent into the world by the Father himself (ch. 10).
All these signs and replacements culminate in the great sign of resurrection when Lazarus heard “Come out!” (ch. 11). The stench and death of a cave tomb were replaced by life and hope and the promise of more to come.
Paul Rorem, Professor of Medieval Church History