The issue of glory has already surfaced in this Gospel. In the Prologue, John says that “we have seen [the Word’s] glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14, TNIV). We have seen that the Word would make known or reveal the Father to us (1:18). And now in this passage Jesus’ glory is said to be revealed to us (2:11).
This first sign is said to have revealed Jesus’ glory so it is fitting that John would include it in his narrative and that it would result in his disciples putting their faith in him, or believing in him (2:11). As previously seen, John’s purpose (as expressed in 20:30-31) is to show forth Jesus so that his readers would believe in him. This first sign is included for this very reason and it is the first time we see that his disciples ‘believe in him’ in that language (though belief is evidenced in Ch. 1 by the new disciples).
So, what is the sign? Jesus and his disciples find themselves invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother is also there. A problem arises, however; a big no-no in the ancient world (in ours too perhaps): they have run out of wine. The shame on the groom (the one responsible) would be enormous.
The mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3). What appears to be a simple statement is understood by Jesus to be some sort of call for him to do something, as evidenced by his response, “Woman, why do you involve me?… My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). His mother next involves the servants at the wedding by saying to them, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Mary (who actually isn’t named as such) takes the mild rebuke in stride (or a rebuff as Keener calls it) by evidencing trust in what Jesus could do to remedy the situation. It is perhaps possible that Mary has approached Jesus in her first statement about the wine ‘on an inside track’ as his mother, but Jesus refuses to be approached by anyone on an inside track.
Jesus’ comment about his ‘hour’ is interesting. Jesus pushes back on getting involved since his ‘hour has not yet come.’ Throughout this Gospel Jesus speaks about his ‘hour,’ almost entirely in reference to the cross. It seems that Jesus would be hastening on the hour by getting himself involved in a way that would reveal his glory. He nonetheless does respond to his mother’s request and performs this sign. His hour is coming.
After a narrative comment about the stone water jars present, Jesus is quoted again telling the servants what to do. He takes the reigns, telling the servants to fill those jars to the brim with water and then draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet (vv. 7-8). The servants listen to Mary and thereby listen to Jesus and do just as he tells them. The master tastes it and is amazed at the quality of the wine, better than the first, though it was expected that the worse wine would be served after people had already had a little too much of the good stuff. This essentially is the story of the sign.
The narrative comment in v. 6 that I passed over may be significant. The water jars that Jesus uses for the wine are said to be the ones used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. In altering the purpose of these jars Jesus may be setting aside the purificatory rites and setting the shame of the groom needing rectification over against purificatory rites. Indeed there may be connections to the Temple narrative which follows this that I’ll explore later.
The long and short of it is that the road toward Jesus’ hour of the cross has begun and his glory is being revealed resulting in those around him believing in him.