Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 2
Mother-Son Dynamic in Chapter 2
This chapter is comprised of two stories. The first is when Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding and the second is when he becomes angry and overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the temple at Jerusalem. Both events are done in front of large crowds of people and used to establish the holy nature of Jesus. It is what solidified his disciple’s faith in him and in his abilities, and what made many people believe in him and his abilities.
Lay faithful and scholars alike have debated the language that Christ uses toward his mother, Mary, in the fourth verse of John chapter 2. Some translations, such as the NIV, even go so far as to insert a 'dear' (not present in the Greek) in front of 'woman' to, shall we say, soften the blow. However, only a surfaced interpretation of Jesus' remarks would render him as being "un-Christ-like" to a parent. Jesus also used the same brusqueness when rejecting his brother's helpful suggestions regarding the advancement of his ministry (Smith 84). In fact, Jesus uses this device primarily because of his drive to fulfill scripture. In other words, "his hour, or time, [had] not yet come" (Smith 84). From another point of view, this kind of language represents a way in which Christ communicates the mystic nature of his person - no one, including his own mother, will know or understand his reasoning for actions (or withholding actions, as in the case of the 'rebuke' at Cana) if he does not wish to clearly impart that knowledge Himself. The use of this direct address to His mother shows her subordination to Him. Jesus, even though he respects His mother, is God's son, and no human, including His own mother, has any authority over Him.
The fact that Mary took matters into her own hands shows that she may in fact have had some hand in the wedding. The servants themselves paid full respect to her, also showing her influence at this event. Jesus was concerned about fulfilling the scripture--waiting to unfold it in a proper way and wanted to fulfill it according to God's plan. This is the first miracle. How then would Mary know that Jesus was able to do this? She elicited his potentiality. Even though, Jesus was concerned about his Father's timing, Mary knew by faith that he would act. Mary then told the servants to listen and follow whatever Jesus told them to do. Jesus trusted her judgment and went ahead with the first miracle. However, Jesus time had still not come, and the miracle was performed in a low profile manner. First of all, there is no true report of when exactly the water was turned into wine. The jars were filled with water (v. 7), and by the time the master had tasted the water, it had become wine. This substance in the vessel may have changed when the water was poured in, when it was drawn from the jars, while the servants carried it to the master, or even as the master was tasting it. Even more important is the fact that there is no account of this miracle being viewed by the public. The only people who we know saw the miracle were the servants, thus showing Jesus as a servant of the people.
John is the only book where Jesus' mother is present at the beginning of his ministry and at his death. Jesus' mother, even without an account of Jesus' birth, plays an important role in John(Smith,83). Smith says that the exchange between Jesus and his mother shows a picture that is evident throughout John. The people around Jesus, including his own family, do not understand his purpose on earth (Smith,83-84). His mother's subordination to Jesus is shown not only in how Jesus addresses her at the wedding, but also in how she is addressed throughout John. The Gospel refers to her as "Jesus' mother" throughout, rather than "Mary" as the Synoptic Gospels call her.
John 2:1-11 Commentary
The wedding at Cana is a story found only in John. The "miracle" or sign of turning water into wine is suggested to be the first example of the "greater things" as described in John earlier. A highly debated issue is the wine symbolism. One questions whether this reference is a deliberate allusion. "Yet John is tantalizingly vague, in the sense that the Gospel usually does not drive such allusions home or make them explicit." (Smith 87). Jesus' ability to perform this great feat shows his power. In John 2:1-11, Jesus does the first of several signs. He turns water into wine at the wedding at Cana that reveals his glory and makes his disciples believe. When he does this it is important to consider where the water was being held - in stone jars.  The stone is thought to be symbolic of purity, because stone does not transfer impurities. That is why they are used for "Jewish rites of purification which become important as things develop" (Smith, 84). Furthermore, even though "Jesus is the new revelation that supersedes the old, he knows the salvation of the Jews (4:22)"(Smith, 84-5). Therefore the purity of the stone is an important idea to consider. However there are certain issues within this passage that remain mysteries to historians and novice readers alike. It is unclear when Jesus exactly changed the water into wine. Some even theorize that Jesus is the bridegroom.
A seriously important development in the passage is Jesus' address of his mother in response to her reporting to him the absence of wine in verse 3. Jesus replies in verse 4 by saying "My time has not yet come." as if doing anything now would be too much for the people to bear at the moment. Jesus is aware that he must not "spoil" anything but he still acts and proceeds to make the water wine. It appears as if Jesus knows that he must set the stage for what is to come, almost in a manner as if he believes the people are not yet prepared.
The glory is evident in the kindness at the Cana wedding, as the prologue has prepared us to notice (1:14). In response to a modest request Jesus provides wine in abundance. The Son of God's gracious generosity and glory are revealed in this sign. Also, there is no synoptic parallel to this sign. In addition, we might call changing water into wine a miracle, but the author calls it a 'sign' because its primary purpose is to lead the reader to believe in Jesus as the 'true vine' (John 15). A grape vine draws water out of the soil and produces fruit. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus when he was baptized, and he in turn gives the living water of the Holy Spirit to all who ask (John 4, John 7:37-39) which produces spiritual fruit in our lives if we are willing to be his disciples. This spiritual truth is represented in a physical way in the turning of water into wine at the wedding.
John 2:12-25 Commentary
Important topics to discuss include:
- The placement of the account of the temple incident at this early point in Jesus' ministry, as a historical issue of the relationship between John and the Synoptics.
- The saying about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt, another point of contact between John, the Synoptics and Acts, and the Gospel of Thomas.
- The symbolism of Jesus' action: did it symbolize the cleansing of the Temple, its destruction, or something else?
In John 2:13-22 the cleansing of the Temple signifies the post-resurrection rebuilding of the temple by Jesus. In contrast with John, the synoptic gospels place the cleansing of the temple towards the end of their accounts of Jesus' life, in the context of his final visit to Jerusalem, as one of the events leading directly to his crucifixion shortly thereafter. There are generally considered to be three different possible interpretations to reconcile these differences. First, Jesus could have cleared the temple twice, once early in his ministry (as recorded in John) and once near his death (as recorded in the Synoptics). Second, John's timeline could be correct, with the synoptic authors placing the clearing of the temple at the end because it is the only place in the narrative where Jesus is in Jerusalem. Finally, the time line of the synoptics could be correct. Supporting this final position is the idea that the order of events in John is frequently determined by theological reasons rather than chronological data (Smith, 1984). In John 2:19, Jesus states "destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it up". This is symbolic of His resurrection. What appears to be the same saying is discussed at the trial of Jesus in Mark and Matthew, as well as being quoted by onlookers at the crucifixion.
Jesus' public ministry as recorded by John takes place almost entirely in Jerusalem; in contrast to the Synoptic Gospels which depict the bulk of Jesus' ministry in Capernaum. Furthermore, the Synoptics only describe one trip to Jerusalem, not three in the case of John. This may be a clue as to the reason for the timeline inconsistency in the act of clearing the temple. This also gives us a clue into the perspectives of the authors themselves. The order and timelines of events and teachings of Jesus do not seem to be an area of concern for the writers; but rather the message itself is the primary objective.
Jesus' reasons for clearing the temple is an oft talked about aspect of this narrative. It seems clear from reading the narrative that one of the main reasons for his anger was a feeling that people were exploiting the temple for their own monetary gain. John explicitly mentions the selling of, "cattle, sheep, and doves." (John 2:14) Later John says, "He told those who were selling the doves, 'Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!'" (John 2:16) From this passage it is obvious that Jesus took issue with the selling of animals in the temple. What makes this curious is that animal sacrifice was an integral part of Jewish worship. It was probably not the animal sacrifice that Jesus was upset about but rather the selling of the animals inside the temple, which could be seen as a desecration. There is also a possibility of exploitation in the mold of a modern day monopoly.
The act of clearing the temple was probably seen as a fulfillment of Prophecy by the first century Christians. During the act, the Synoptics include Jesus quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11; but in John, his disciples only remember afterwards the scripture of Psalm 69:9 (v.17)(Smith 89). The fact that three different scriptures are given from different sources to explain the same event implies that the early Christians were searching for meaning and messianic reasons for Jesus' actions, and not completely aware of the messianic implications for Jesus’ clearing of the Temple when the event actually took place.