THE FIRST MIRACLE.
"ON the third day," says St. John, "there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee." Writing with a full knowledge and vivid recollection of every fact that took place during those divinely memorable days, he gives his indications of time as though all were equally familiar with them. The third day has been understood in different manners: it is simplest to understand it as the third after the departure of Jesus for Galilee. If He were travelling expeditiously He might stop on the first night (supposing him to follow the ordinary route) at Shiloh or at Shechem; on the second at En-Gannim; on the third, crossing the plain of Jezreel, He could easily reach Nazareth, and finding that His mother and brethren were not there, might, in an hour and a half longer, reach Cana in time for the ceremonies of an Oriental wedding.
It is well known that those ceremonies began at twilight. It was the custom in Palestine, no less than in Greece,
"To bear away
or even later, far on into the night, covered from head to foot in her loose and flowing veil, garlanded with flowers, and dressed in her fairest robes. She was heralded by torchlight, with songs and dances, and the music of the drum and flute, to the bridegroom's home. She was attended by the maidens of her village, and the bridegroom came to meet her with his youthful friends. Legend says that Nathanael was on this occasion the paranymph, whose duty it was to escort the bride; but the presence of Mary, who must have left Nazareth on purpose to be present at the wedding, seems to show that one of the bridal pair was some member of the Holy Family. Jesus too was invited, and His disciples, and the use of the singular (ékléthe) implies that they were invited for His sake, not He for theirs. It is not likely, therefore, that Nathanael, who had only heard the name of Jesus two days before, had anything to do with the marriage. All positive conjecture is idle; but the fact that the Virgin evidently took a leading position in the house, and commands the servants in a tone of authority, renders it not improbable that this may have been the wedding of one of her nephews, the sons of Alphæus, or even of one of her daughters, "the sisters of Jesus," to whom tradition gives the names Esther and Thamar. That Joseph himself was dead is evident from the complete silence of the Evangelists, who after Christ's first visit to Jerusalem as a boy, make no further mention of his name.
Whether the marriage festival lasted for seven days, as was usual among those who could afford it, or only for one or two, as was the case among the poorer classes, we cannot tell; but at some period of the entertainment the wine suddenly ran short. None but those who know how sacred in the East is the duty of lavish hospitality, and how passionately the obligation to exercise it to the utmost is felt, can realise the gloom which this incident would have thrown over the occasion, or the misery and mortification which it would have caused to the wedded pair. They would have felt it to be, as in the East it would still be felt to be, a bitter and indelible disgrace.
Now the presence of Jesus and his five disciples may well have been the cause of this unexpected deficiency. The invitation, as we have seen, was originally intended for Jesus alone, nor could the youthful bridegroom in Cana of Galilee have been in the least aware that during the last four days Jesus had won the allegiance of five disciples. It is probable that no provision had been made for this increase of numbers, and that it was their unexpected presence which caused the deficiency in this simple household. Moreover, it is hardly probable that, coming from a hasty journey of ninety miles, the little band could, even had their means permitted it, have conformed to the common Jewish custom of bringing with them wine and other provisions to contribute to the mirthfulness of the wedding feast.
Under these circumstances, therefore, there was a special reason why the mother of Jesus should say to Him, "They have no wine." The remark was evidently a pointed one, and its import could not be misunderstood. None knew, as Mary knew, who her Son was; yet for thirty long years of patient waiting for this manifestation, she had but seen Him grow as other children grew, and live, in sweetness indeed and humility and grace of sinless wisdom, like a tender plant before God, but in all other respects as other youths have lived, preeminent only in utter stainlessness. But now He was thirty years old; the voice of the great Prophet, with whose fame the nation rang, had proclaimed Him to be the promised Christ; He was being publicly attended by disciples who acknowledged Him as Rabbi and Lord. Here was a difficulty to be met; an act of true kindness to be performed; a disgrace to be averted from friends whom He lovedand that too a disgrace to which his own presence and that of His disciples had unwittingly contributed. Was not His hour yet come? Who could tell what He might do, if He were only made aware of the trouble which threatened to interrupt the feast? Might not some band of hymning angels, like the radiant visions, who had heralded His birth, receive His bidding to change that humble marriage-feast into a scene of heaven? Might it not be that even now He would lead them into His banquet-house, and His banner over them be love?
Her faith was strong, her motives pure, except perhaps what has been called "the slightest possible touch of the purest womanly, motherly anxiety (we know no other word) prompting in her the desire to see her Son honoured in her presence." And her Son's hour had nearly come: but it was necessary now, at once, for ever, for that Son to show to her that henceforth he was not Jesus the Son of Mary, but the Christ the Son of God; that as regarded His great work and mission, as regarded His Eternal Being, the significance of the beautiful relationship had passed away; that His thoughts were not as her thoughts, neither His ways her ways. It could not have been done in a manner more decisive, yet at the same time more entirely tender.
"Woman, what have I to do with thee?" The words at first sound harsh, and almost repellent in their roughness and brevity; but that is the fault partly of our version, partly of our associations. He does not call her "mother," because, in circumstances such as these, she was His mother no longer; but the address "Woman" (Gúnai) was so respectful that it might be, and was, addressed to the queenliest, and so gentle that it might be, and was, addressed at the tenderest moments to the most fondly loved. And "what have I to do with thee?"is a literal version of a common Aramaic phrase (mah lî velâk), which, while it sets aside a suggestion and waives all further discussion of it, is yet perfectly consistent with the most delicate courtesy and the most feeling consideration.
Nor can we doubt that even the slight check involved in these quiet words was still more softened by the look and accent with which they were spoken, and which are often sufficient to prevent far harsher utterances from inflicting any pain. For with undiminished faith, and with no trace of pained feeling, Mary said to the servantsover whom it is clear she was exercising some authority"Whatever He says to you, do it at once."
The first necessity after a journey in the East is to wash the feet, and before a meal to wash the hands; and to supply these wants there were standing (as still is usual), near the entrance of the house, six large stone water-jars, with their orifices filled with bunches of fresh green leaves to keep the water cool. Each of these jars contained two or three baths of water, and Jesus bade the servants at once fill them to the brim. They did so, and He then ordered them to draw out the contents in smaller vessels, and carry it to the guest who, according to the festive custom of the time, had been elected "governor of the feast." Knowing nothing of what had taken place, he mirthfully observed that in offering the good wine last, the bridegroom had violated the common practice of banquets. This was Christ's first miracle, and thus, with a definite and symbolic purpose, did He manifest His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.
It was His first miracle, yet how unlike all that we should have expected; how simply unobtrusive, how divinely calm! The method, indeed, of the miraclewhich is far more wonderful in character than the ordinary miracles of healingtranscends our powers of conception; yet it was not done with any pomp of circumstance, or blaze of adventitious glorification. Men in these days have presumptuously talked as though it were God's dutythe duty of Him to whom the sea and the mountains are a very little thing, and before whose eyes the starry heaven is but as one white gleam in the "intense inane"to perform His miracles before a circle of competent savans! Conceivably it might be so had it been intended that miracles should be the sole, or even the main, credentials, of Christ's authority; but to the belief of Christendom the son of God would still be the Son of God even if, like John, He had done no miracle. The miracles of Christ were miracles addressed, not to a cold and sceptic curiosity, but to a loving and humble faith. They needed not the acuteness of the impostor, or the self-assertion of the thaumaturge. They were indeed the signsalmost, we had said, the accidental signsof His divine mission; but their primary object was the alleviation of human suffering, or the illustration of sacred truths, or, as in this instance, the increase of innocent joy. An obscure village, an ordinary wedding, a humble home, a few faithful peasant guestssuch a scene, and no splendid amphitheatre or stately audience, beheld one of Christ's greatest miracles of power. And in these respects the circumstances of the First Miracle are exactly analogous to the supernatural events recorded of Christ's birth. In the total unlikeness of this to all that we should have imaginedin its absolute contrast with anything which legend would have inventedin all, in short, which most offends the unbeliever, we see but fresh confirmation that we are reading the words of soberness and truth.
A miracle is a miracle, and we see no possible advantage in trying to understand the means by which it was wrought. In accepting the evidence for itand it is for each man to be fully persuaded in his own mind, and to accept or to reject at his pleasure, perhaps even it may prove to be at his perilwe are avowedly accepting the evidence for something which transcends, though it by no means necessarily supersedes, the ordinary laws by which Nature works. What is gainedin what single respect does the miracle become, so to speak, easier or more comprehensibleby supposing, with Olshausen, that we have here only an accelerated process of nature; or with Neander (apparently), that the water was magnetised; or with Lange (apparently), that the guests were in a state of supernatural exaltation? Let those who find it intellectually possible, or spiritually advantageous, freely avail themselves of such hypotheses if they see their way to do so: to us they seem, not "irreverent," not "rationalistic," not "dangerous," but simply embarrassing and needless. To denounce them as unfaithful concessions to the spirit of scepticism may suit the exigencies of a violent and Pharisaic theology, but is unworthy of that calm charity which should be the fairest fruit of Christian faith. In matters of faith it ought to be to every one of us "a very small thing to be judged of you or of man's judgment;" we ought to believe, or disbelieve, or modify belief, with sole reference to that which, in our hearts and consciences, we feel to be the will of God; and it is by His judgment, and by His alone, that we should care to stand or to fall. We as little claim a right to scathe the rejector of miracles by abuse and anathema, as we admit his right to sneer at us for imbecility or hypocrisy. Jesus has taught to all men, whether they accept or reject Him, the lessons of charity and sweetness; and what the believer and the unbeliever alike can do, is calmly, temperately, justly, and with perfect and solemn sincerityknowing how deep are the feelings involved, and how vast the issues at stake between usto state the reason for the belief that is in him. And this being so, I would say that if we once understand that the word Nature has little or no meaning unless it be made to include the idea of its Author; if we once realise the fact, which all science teaches us, that the very simplest and most elementary operation of the laws of Nature is infinitely beyond the comprehension of our most exalted intelligence; if we once believe that the Divine Providence of God is no far-off abstraction, but a living and loving care over the lives of man; lastly, if we once believe that Christ was the only-begotten Son of God, the Word of God, who came to reveal and declare His Father to mankind, then there is nothing in any Gospel miracle to shock our faith: we shall regard the miracles of Christ as resulting from the fact of His Being and His mission, no less naturally and inevitably than the rays of light stream outwards from the sun. They were, to use the favourite expression of St. John, not merely "portents" (térata), or powers (dunámeis), or signs (semeîa), but they were works (érga), the ordinary and inevitable works (whenever He chose to exercise them) of One whose very existence was the highest miracle of all. For our faith is that He was sinless; and to borrow the words of a German poet, "one might have thought that the miracle of miracles was to have created the world such as it is; yet it is a far greater miracle to have lived a perfectly pure life therein." The greatest of modern philosophers said that there were two things which overwhelmed his soul with awe and astonishment, "the starry heaven above, and the moral law within;" but to these has been added a third reality no less majesticthe fulfilment of the moral law without us in the Person of Jesus Christ. That fulfilment makes us believe that He was indeed Divine; and if He were Divine, we have no further astonishment left when we are taught that He did on earth that which can be done by the Power of God alone.
But there are two characteristics of this first miracle which we ought to notice.
One is its divine unselfishness. His ministry is to be a ministry of joy and peace; His sanction is to be given not to a crushing asceticism, but to a genial innocence; His approval, not to a compulsory celibacy, but to a sacred union. He who, to appease His own sore hunger, would not turn the stones of the wilderness into bread, gladly exercises, for the sake of others, His transforming power; and but six or seven days afterwards, relieves the perplexity and sorrow of a humble wedding feast by turning water into wine. The first miracle of Moses was, in stern retribution, to turn the river of a guilty nation into blood; the first of Jesus to fill the water-jars of an innocent family with wine.
And the other is its symbolic character. Like nearly all the miracles of Christ, it combines the characteristics of a work of mercy, an emblem, and a prophecy. The world gives its best first, and afterwards all the dregs and bitterness; but Christ came to turn the lower into the richer and sweeter, the Mosaic law into the perfect law of liberty, the baptism of John into the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire, the self-denials of a painful isolation into the self-denials of a happy home, sorrow and sighing into hope and blessing, and water into wine. And thus the "holy estate" which Christ adorned and beautified with His presence and first miracle in Cana of Galilee, foreshadows the mystical union between Christ and His Church; and the common element which he thus miraculously changed becomes a type of our life on earth transfigured and ennobled by the anticipated joys of heavena type of that wine which He shall drink new with us in the kingdom of God, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.