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§ 116. The Change of Water into Wine.—Character and Import of the Miracle.—Little Impression made upon the People.

THREE days after Christ had thus set forth the mode in which he from that time should reveal himself, he displayed, at a wedding in Cana,257257   It is to be remarked that Nathanael was “the son of Tholmai,” i. e. Bartholomew, of Cana, which fact may confirm our view of the order of the events. the fulness of “the power of heaven” streaming forth from him self, which was to transfigure, as he had said, both nature and humanity. The wine provided for the occasion gave out, and Mary requested her Son to supply the lack by employing the powers that were at his command. Having recognized him as Messiah, she necessarily expected him to work miracles, and this expectation was increased by the impression which he had made in the short time that had elapsed after his consecration to the Messianic mission. She looked impatiently for the hour when he should reveal himself in his glory, as Messiah, before the eyes of all men.

But Christ, although he held all purely human feelings sacred, yet demanded that “man should deny father and mother” when the cause of God required it. He had now to apply this principle to his own mother, and, conscious of his Divine character and calling, to rebuke the request thus made to him, and the feelings which prompted it. “What have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come;” as if he had said, “Our wishes lie apart. My Divine powers cannot be made subservient to earthly aims and motives. My acts obey a higher plan and loftier laws, in accordance with which each of them has its appointed time. As yet, the moment for revealing myself in my Messianic dignity, by miracles apparent to all eyes, has not arrived.”

Christ intended, as he here intimates, to come forth gradually from his obscurity. He had no idea of displaying his glory, as Mary wished, at once. Still, as she might have been accustomed to take from his words and look more than he uttered, she probably understood that her wish would be met, so far as the fact was concerned, though from a point of view totally different from her own. And so it was; the thing was done, but in no very striking way, nor in a way calculated to reveal his Messianic glory to all eyes.

As for the character of the miracle itself, we cannot place it, as some do, among the highest of Christ’s miraculous acts. We conceive it 167thus: He brought out of water, by his creative energy, a substance (wine), which is naturally the joint product of the growth of the vine, and of human labour, water being only one of the co-operating factors; and thus substituted his creative power for various natural and artificial processes. But we are not justified in inferring that the water was changed into manufactured wine; but that, by his direct agency, he imparted to it powers capable of producing the same effects; that he intensified (so to speak) the powers of water into those of wine.258258   I would be pleased to believe, if I could, that the view here taken had as old ecclesiastical authority as the late Baumgarten-Crusius supposes he has found for it, in the ancient hymn “De Epiphania Domini” (Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, i., p. 19): “Vel hydriis plenis aqua vini saporem infuderis.” But the word saporem can hardly be made emphatic. In the sense of the hymn, the words “vini saporem infundere” probably mean nothing more than “in vinum mutare.” Indeed, this latter view of the miracle conforms better to its spiritual import than the former.259259   Compare, as analogies, the mineral springs, in which, by natural processes, new powers are given to water; and the ancient accounts of springs which sent forth waters like wine-intoxicating waters: “Πολλαχοῦ δ᾽ εἰσὶ κρῆναι αἱ μὲν ποτιμώτεραι καὶ οἰνωδέστεραι, ὡς ἡ περὶ Παφλαγονίαν, πρὸς ἤν φασι τοῦς ἐχωρίους ὑποπίνειν προσιόντας.”—Athenaeus, Deip., ii., § 17, 18 Of another water says Theopompus, “τοὺς πίνοντας αὐτὸ μεθύσκεσθαι, καθὰ καὶ τοὺς τὸν οἶνον.”

It is not a sufficient explanation of the final cause and moral bearing260260   The supposition that John’s Gospel was written by some one of Alexandrian education, with a tendency to Gnosticism, is refuted by this narrative. Such a man would never have assigned such an object and such a scene for Christ’s first miracle. Such a one could not have invented and put into the mouth of the “ruler of the feast” the clumsy jest which he uttered (John, ii., 9), (although we do not (as some do) lay stress upon it, and infer that the guests were nearly drunk). Any one writing a history of Christ apologetically, and with a view to exalt his character according to the tendency of those times, would rather have altered and adorned a true narrative of such facts (if such existed) than have invented a false one bearing against his object; or, if he had some symbolical meaning in his view, he would certainly have stated it. of the miracle to say that Christ intended, by thus exhibiting his glory, to incite and confirm a faith in his calling. We must seek its import rather by contemplating it in reference to his moral self-revelation as a whole; by inquiring how the peculiar Spirit of Christ was reflected and illustrated in this single act.

While in retirement, he had resembled, in the austerity of his life, the ascetic preacher of repentance, John the Baptist. Now, however, in the very beginning of his public labours, no longer in solitude, but mingling in the social life of men, he enters into all human interests, shares all human feelings, and thus at once presents a contrast to the severe legalism of John. In the joyous circle of a wedding, he performs his first miracle to gratify a social want. Thus he sanctifies connexions, feelings, joys, that are purely human, by his personal presence, and by unfolding his Divine powers in such a circle and on such an occasion. In this view the miracle gives the spirit of Christian Ethics, whose task it is to apply to all human relations the image of Christ as 168stamped upon his self-revealed life. But it has a further and a great symbolical import: Christ employed water, one of the commonest sup. ports of life, as the vehicle of a higher power: so it is the peculiarity of Christ’s Spirit and labours, the peculiarity of the work of Christianity not to destroy what is natural, but to ennoble and transfigure it; to enable it, as the organ of Divine powers, to produce effects beyond it, original capacities. To energize the power of Water into that of Wine is, indeed, in every sense, the peculiar office of Christianity.

This first stay of Christ in Galilee after his inauguration as Messiah was attended with important results in the training of the narrower circle of his disciples: but he does not appear, in that short time, to have made any lasting impression upon the people. There were few so ingenuous in their prepossessions as a Nathanael; the prejudices of many against the “son of the carpenter at Nazareth” could not be removed until they had obtained a vivid impression of his public labours at the feast of the Passover in the metropolis. Even in this beginning of his labours in Galilee, he had probably found occasion to apply the Jewish proverb, “a prophet hath no honour in his own country.”261261   John. iv., 44: doubtless referring to this period; a supposition which the use of γάρ renders probable. Thus interpreted, we should have John’s testimony that Christ had already sought to appear as a teacher in Galilee.

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