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Cana of Galilee

An address by Fr John Slater

18 January 2004 11:00 | Fr John Slater

I’ve been to Cana of Galilee. Over the last two thousand years it has remained no more than a tiny village - its population today a mixture of Christian and Muslim. It isn’t a beautiful or memorable village but there are lovely views over the Sea of Galilee. Obviously, all Christian tour buses stop there and, of course, you can buy small flasks of Cana wine to bring back as souvenirs. But I don’t recommend drinking it!

The wedding feast at Cana is surely one of the best known stories of the New Testament. In St John’s Gospel it is recorded at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. John calls it the beginning of signs, in which Jesus manifested forth his glory. I’m told the old Rector always preached on it at weddings!

In the New Testament, a wedding feast is always a symbol of the great banquet of heaven in which men and women are at last united to God. But here, something has gone wrong. If there is no wine there will be no feasting. What has happened to that celebration of union between God and mankind? The story is telling us that the old covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham is inadequate; it is insufficient; there is simply not enough wine for everyone to join the feast. But then, that covenant had never included the gentiles. Something very new, truly revolutionary, is being suggested here - that the God of Abraham cares equally for the gentiles who should be able to share the banquet of heaven along with the descendants of Abraham.

What they do have at the wedding at Cana is water for the ceremonial washing required by the Law of Moses - six water pots of stone, each containing two or three firkins apiece. Now I can’t remember exactly what a firkin is but my guess is that it is about eight gallons. So if each stone water pot contained 24 gallons, that makes 144 gallons in total. Now I don’t know how many people were attending this wedding feast but certainly not enough to drink so much wine. The point of the story is rather that there really is enough to go around for everybody - not just the descendants of Abraham but for the gentiles also.

Now this is truly revolutionary thinking. For centuries the Jews had seen themselves as having an exclusive relationship to the one true God. They were his people and would share the banquet of his heaven. All others were gentiles, cut off from the hope of salvation. There was little welcome for the suggestion that God did not distinguish between Jew and Gentile and that this ancient division was being overcome by a New Covenant.

It was left to St Paul to work out the implications of the work of Jesus as establishing the New Covenant which includes all men and women. Christianity is a universal religion - it is good news for all. We can no longer separate people into separate groups - some included in God’s love and others not. This really does affect the way we relate to others - all are children of the one Father; we are truly brothers and sisters.
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