The Miracle at Cana: Something from Nothing

I usually think of the miracle at Cana as one of the little ones, "unfit even to be called a miracle"—a kind of parlor trick, even. Water to wine. A casual thing, certainly by comparison with raising the dead. I thought to myself this morning, "how d'ya preach on this?" Fortunately, I didn't have to; I could simply hear it. And what I heard is no small thing. What I heard is, "God makes something from nothing."

Six stone jars. Fairly hefty things, made of hewn stone, because stone is clean. If you're going to wash, and come out clean, you want clean water in a clean vessel. Pottery is no good for this. Pottery absorbs. Pottery holds dirt in its pores. Pottery keeps a little bit of everything you put in it. Ceramic is better, with its high-fire surface. Ceramic is clean enough to eat off of, and it can be washed clean again. But even ceramic vessels need to be immersed in something. And that something is stone. Pottery remembers what it has touched, but not stone. Stone forgets.

Six clean, empty stone vessels, ready to be used for cleaning other things. Just add water. Clean, "living" water, whether rainwater from the sky or flowing water from a stream—water that hasn't become contaminated by other containers, things that themselves need to be cleaned. Water that is as empty as the stone. Water that is ready to be filled.

It's meant to be filled with dirt, to absorb the uncleanliness of the washed items, which is then disposed of with the water. But right now, these things are empty. Stone vessels, clean water—nothing there at all. Just waiting.

And Jesus adds nothing to them. No magic words, no special touch—in fact, no contact of any kind. Jesus does nothing but tell the servants to do what they would likely have done later anyways: filled the stone vessels with water. Just do it now. And they do what he tells them to do, and it just happens. It is pure miracle. The servants expect to draw out clean water from a clean stone vessel, because there's nothing else there. Even the nothing that's there, they put there. This makes the something they get instead quite a surprise! Imagine soaking up clean water with clean towels, and wringing out Châteauneuf-du-Pape!

This is no mere changing of one beverage to another, as though the water glasses at table were suddenly filled with the finest grape. That's something to something else. This, in the language of the story, is something from nothing. This is creatio ex nihilo. And this, like everything John records, is told so that you may believe. God doesn't need anything to happen in advance, or wait for something to happen that can be used. God make something from nothing. And not just anything, either. What God makes is good. This is better wine than the families of the bride and groom could afford! And there are no prerequisites to God's doing good. The Father does not begrudge good things for his children.

And if Jesus is a bit reluctant to trot out miracles in public, that's nothing against this truth. There's no show here, certainly, to go with the miracle, and consequently no credit where credit is due—except what is always given in the b'richot, in praise to God who brings forth the fruit of the vine, even when there's no vine involved. In thanks and praise to the God who has graciously created all that is, and graciously provides.

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