The Significance of the ‘Stone Jars’ at the Wedding in Cana

Mary comes to Jesus and reports that the wine for the wedding feast had run out. He answers,

“Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

In Greek “woman” (guné) has a broader range of meaning than the English equivalent. It’s more often the word for “wife” in the New Testament, as it is in Hebrew and Aramaic. Jesus prefers it for a personal reason since there is no precedent in the Bible for calling your mother “wife”.

Jesus made numerous references to His “hour” and they all refer to His future Passion: His suffering, death, and resurrection. Since it would have been years away, the reference to it at the beginning of His ministry is curious.

Some interpreters suggest that Jesus was expressing His reluctance to begin His public use of miracles as it would hasten His hour of suffering, similar to His reluctance in the Garden of Gethsemane. But this miracle was private, specifically for the benefit of the disciples. After His baptism and the infilling of the Spirit in the form of a dove, Jesus began the process of choosing His disciples and appeared to have embraced the commencement of His ministry. The reference to His “hour” might be explained by the stone jars.

The Stone Jars

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim.

Since the wine ran out, the empty wine casks would have been the logical containers to have the servants fill with water. Jesus preferred the stone jars used for ritual bathing even though storing wine in them is not their purpose.

This reveals that the scene as described by John was intended to involve symbolism that would foreshadow His Passion and the establishment of His Church. The jars represented ritual purification and hence the Law. Jesus’ blood would one day represent the purification of the body and soul in fulfillment of the Jewish Law.

The blood of Jesus would literally be offered for consumption in the form of wine (see chapter 6). Since the groom was responsible for the wine, Jesus is the bridegroom providing the wine for his bride (the Church); this foreshadows the Eucharist. The wine that Jesus will provide through His passion will be superior and will accomplish what the Law could not:

Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

This might explain why Jesus called Mary “woman” or “wife”; as His mother she represented the spiritual mother of all Christians:

Then the dragon became angry with the woman [Mary] and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus (Rev. 12:17).

Also, Mary obviously knew what Jesus meant by His “hour”, while the disciples did not. This miracle not only revealed Jesus’ Glory to them, but began preparing the disciples to understand and embrace His mission of sacrifice.


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