What was so funny at the wedding at Cana?

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s 1672 painting of Christ’s first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana, doesn’t depict anyone snickering, but there is a subtle humor in the Lord’s command to the wedding attendants.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s 1672 painting of Christ’s first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana, doesn’t depict anyone snickering, but there is a subtle humor in the Lord’s command to the wedding attendants.

The Gospel of John wonderfully depicts Our Lord’s life in a way that is accessible to both the average person as well as the scholar. The wedding at Cana is a great example of how John’s narrative is both easy to understand and enjoyable to the reader yet at the same time deep and profound. In fact, there is an element of humor at the wedding at Cana that unless you look a little deeper “Behind the Bible,” you may have missed.

Our familiarity with this miracle sometimes works against us in that we gloss over the details of the story because they are so familiar to us. But let’s take ourselves off autopilot and look at the details with fresh eyes. Christ turned water to wine. Did you ever notice where the servant got the water for the miracle? St. John tells us:

“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons” (John 2:6).

Gary Michuta

Gary Michuta

What were these stone water jars, and why were they at the wedding? They we used for ritual washing. Washing rituals were very important to the people of the Old Testament. The Pharisees once complained that Christ’s disciples were eating with unwashed hands. They took offense, not because they were afraid of spreading germs, but because they interpreted Leviticus 15:11 in a very strict sense (Matthew 15:2). By ritually washing your hands before a meal, you cleansed yourself from any ritual defilement you might have previously contracted. It’s also interesting that John mentions these jars were made of stone, not earthenware. This fits perfectly with rabbinical teaching that unlike earthenware, stone could not be ritually defiled.

We should also note the size of these six stone jars. When we think of the miracle at Cana, we often picture a few containers of water being turned into wine. But John tells us that each jar contained approximately 20 to 30 gallons! That means Jesus’ miracle produced more wine than could possibility be needed for the feast.

The number of jars is also interesting because the number six often represents imperfection or incompleteness and perhaps points to the Old Covenant. Case in point: In the Old Covenant, we are to work six days and rest on the Sabbath (the seventh).

You can begin to see both the depth of Christ’s miracle and also an element of humor. Christ took the water used for ritual cleansing in the Old Covenant and transformed it into the best wine of the wedding feast. This episode is so deep that we will have to save these elements for future articles, but for now I’d like to focus on the humorous element.

Jesus didn’t transform drinking water into wine. The water supplied for this miracle was anything but clean. It was hand-washing water! It definitely would not be the type of water anyone would voluntarily drink. The funny part? Christ commanded the waiters to give it to the headwaiter, their boss.

When he tasted it, he proclaimed it was the best wine of the feast. Why did the headwaiter drink the hand-washing water? John tells us the headwaiter did not know where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew) (John 2:9). I imagine the waiters grinning as they handed the water to their boss. Still, you have to admire the faith of the wait staff. Can you imagine serving your boss the same thing?

I think this humorous element gives us something to ponder during Lent. Heaven is our goal and Mass is a foretaste of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that we will enjoy with Christ at the end of time. But first we need to be prepared for the feast. We need to be like the obedient waiters at Cana who followed Mary’s command, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). We should do so with a smile because what may seem strange to the world will, in God’s hands, bring about something unexpectedly wonderful.


Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.