The Jars of Water

Catherine McNiel | November 7, 2019

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John 2:1-12

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

                                                                                                            —John 2:1-12


Another powerful symbol that John evokes throughout his gospel—in order to accomplish his goal of demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah, in whom we have life—is water. 

John speaks of the waters of baptism (chapter 1), of being born again through water and spirit (chapter 3), of drinking and never being thirsty again (chapter 4). Jesus walks on water (chapter 6), heals a man born blind using water (chapter 9), heals another man by a pool of water (chapter 5), and washes His disciples’ feet with a basin of water before He dies (chapter 13). 

And, in the midst of a centuries-old festival rite, Jesus interrupts, saying:


Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (John 7:37b-38)


At the wedding, Jesus does not use just any water for this powerfully compassionate, Messianic, symbolic act: He chooses the jars set aside for ceremonial washing. Anything needing ritual cleansing—from utensils to people—would come into contact with these jars and this water. In fact, it is likely that even the guest’s hands were washed here earlier in the ceremony!* These jars are nothing less than the tools used to render impure, unclean things pure and clean and acceptable.

But Jesus does not use this water to purify or cleanse; Jesus uses these jars for a new ceremony, a different sort of transformation. And in doing so, He not only shows that the water obeys Him, not only provides compassionately for the host, not only declares Himself the Messiah who will bring the great Day of the Lord—He demonstrates that God is making all things new, bringing a transformation that turns old paradigms upside down.

In the coming verses, Jesus will drive out the money-changers from the Temple, announce that the Temple will be destroyed, and that He will rebuild it in three days. Through homespun rituals of household cleansing, and the nationwide rituals of temple worship, Jesus makes a scandalous, powerful, capital-punishment-worthy proclamation: His body is the new center of worship and spiritual transformation.

*Suggested in The Art of Taleh: The Gospel of John Revisited by Aaron and Michelle Reyes


Questions for reflection and discussion: Even before the miracle, how do you suppose the servants felt about Jesus’ command to use the ceremonial jars? What is Jesus saying in using these deeply symbolic tools of transformation?

This week's devotions were written by Catherine McNiel. Catherine and her family have been part of WBC since 2008. Her husband, Matthew, is the director of Puente del Pueblo, our church’s ministry that serves residents of West Chicago. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things and All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World.

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