On Sunday I was taking my Sunday School class through John 2, in which Jesus turns water into wine. This involved asking a number of questions, including the following:
- Why mention the interaction with Jesus’ mother? We came to some initial ideas, but nothing conclusive.
- Why does Jesus mean by his ‘hour’? We looked at this theme through the Gospel.
- Why mention that there were six water jars? Given that Johannine literature seems to make much of numbers, is this significant? We posited ideas, but were cautious.
- Why mention that they were stone? We talked about the properties of stone vessels for maintaining ritual purity.
- Why mention that they were for ceremonial washing? We looked at the theme of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in Leviticus, and spent a while pondering why God would set up this system that meant that some people would be excluded from temple worship. Ultimately, for Christian readers, this system of clean-unclean comes as a foil for the one who can truly bring the gift of purification and the presence of God
So one of the things we should get out of this passage is that, in replacing the water of ritual cleansing with an extravagant supply of ‘better’ wine, Jesus is seen as the one who can truly bring purification, of a sort that overshadows its ritual prefiguring.
Categories of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ are still of great significance in some cultures, and so this theme might be particularly poignant in those settings – but even for those of us who are in cultures that don’t utilise such ritual categories, I think it’s worth considering the ways in which we still use clean/unclean terminology metaphorically, to depict things that are shameful, such as ‘filthy language,’ or ‘dirty thoughts.’ One way I’ve especially heard it used is in relation to sexual abuse – victims can feel unclean or defiled. Further, this sense of impurity can lead to being ashamed to be in the presence of God. It might especially be this area to which we could apply this theme of Jesus as the purifier. In the words of Jesus himself (Mark 1:41)…
I am willing. Be clean!