Water as a symbol for truth has many uses. We can drink it, freeze it,
wash or cook with it, sail or swim in it, use it as a solvent to mix or
separate things, even power machinery with it. Plants and animals can't
live without it any more than we can, and everybody knows how important
some humidity can be in the air we breathe or circulate around our homes.
Water can be cooling, refreshing, invigorating, nourishing, and certainly
is essential for the cleansing of the blood and tissues within the body.
(Incidentally one thing few people seem to know is that water often is the
most effective antacid you can get; drinking it simply dilutes the offending
acids in the stomach and helps the digestive system restore its normal balance.)
Without water we dry up and die. So it is with truth in our minds. We
need to know a lot of things in order to survive: what's helpful
and what's harmful, what's healthy and what's not, how to get along with
other people and how to get along without them, how to make a living, how
to find fulfillment and meaning, where to go when we're in trouble. If we
don't know the basic laws of our environment we are bound to get hurt or
sick, and we can get into a lot of trouble in our relationships as well.
But this is just the beginning. Water in the Scriptures corresponds specifically
to the truth of spiritual life. So we also need to know about the Lord,
the spiritual world, faith, charity, the will and understanding, the process
of regeneration, Divine Providence and many other things along these lines.
We need to know them so that we can use them, and we can use them, like
water, in many different ways.
In the story of the Lord's first miracle the water we read about was
stored in 6 large stone jars or pots. It was not for drinking or for cooking,
but for washing, specifically for washing the dry dust of Palestine from
the feet of visitors or guests as they entered the house. This is the water
that the Lord turned into wine, in fact much better wine than the host of
the wedding feast had served up to that point.
How did He do it? We don't know. But there is one thing we do know: the
miracle required the co-operation of the servants in the house. First they
had to fill the water pots, and then they had to draw some out, and take
it to the master of the feast. Maybe the water turned to wine as it filled
the jugs. Maybe it did so as they were drawing it out. Maybe it did so as
they carried it to the master. The point is that the Lord didn't just "zap"
the water, apart from the actions of the men and women in the story, but
He did the miracle as they worked with Him, doing His word. This is important,
as we'll see, and makes it quite different from the situation where the
devil suggested that the Lord should turn stones into bread (Matt. 4:3).
In that case the miracle would have been for Himself, to satisfy His own
hunger after fasting, and to prove His power apart from any other need.
So of course He refused. But in this case the Lord was meeting the needs
of a large group, and the fact that it was at a wedding party should be
enough to tell us that it had something to do with our eternal life, for
as we read in Matthew (22), the kingdom of heaven is compared to a marriage
But what is the symbolism of the wine? The general idea is that wine,
as fermented grape juice, represents the Spirit of the Word, the spiritual
sense as distinguished from the literal sense, the understanding of the
truth as distinguished from the truth itself.
With this in mind the basic elements of the whole story begin to fall
into place. Here was a wedding party in Cana of Galilee. And Jesus and His
mother and His disciples were all invited. And they ran out of wine. Now
it doesn't say that Mary was in charge of anything, but when she saw that
they were out of wine she went to her Son and told Him. But He said, "What
does that concern of yours have to do with Me? My time has not yet come,"
whereupon she told the servants, who must have been aware of the Lord's
commanding presence, "Do whatever He tells you to do."
Again, as we know from other lessons, the region of Galilee represents
the part of our minds that is receptive and open to instruction. Cana specifically
seems to be a name taken from the word for a vessel, or perhaps a basket
made of reeds or wicker. So it is that the Lord comes to us when we are
open and receptive. We believe also that Mary represents the affection for
truth, the longing not only to know but to apply the truth in helpful ways.
And just as Mary responds to the need of the people at the feast by speaking
to Jesus, so our longing to know and do what is right leads us to the Lord,
the source of truth.
But the Lord says, "My hour has not yet come." What does this mean? Although
the verses are not explained in detail in the Writings it seems clear that
the people at the wedding represent the church, and when the people run
out of wine the problem being represented is a lack of understanding in
the church. This certainly was the situation when the Lord began His ministry
in Galilee: the people of the Jewish church knew the truth, that is, they
knew the teachings of the Old Testament, and they tried to live by those
teachings, but they didn't have any feeling for their spiritual sense. They
were simply bound by the obligations of the letter (and also subject to
the domination of those who could use the letter of the law to prove their
points and get their way) because the nobler Spirit of the law was missing;
it had run out.
The Lord asking what all this had to do with Him was in a sense rhetorical,
for it had everything to do with Him - not that the spirit of the truth
was missing but that He had come to restore and teach it again. He knew
they wouldn't fully appreciate it, so He said that His hour had not yet
come, but in doing the miracle He showed that He had the power to change
their lives if they would co-operate with Him.
And so here we are in the midst of the story. We are the members of a
new church that has been invited to the enjoy the delights of heaven itself
on earth, reveling in the true marriage of love and wisdom through the marvelous
insights that the Lord has provided in the spiritual sense of His Word.
Here we are at the wedding feast expecting to be provided with all that
we can eat and drink. And yet as we participate in the life of the church
it's not unusual for us to become disenchanted or to suffer various disappointments.
We may start to lose the sense of wonder and excitement that we felt when
we discovered the church or when we first fully entered into it. We may
let our interest in the doctrines wane or become pre-occupied with personal
and organizational problems or external concerns. And then we start to feel
empty. We have run out of wine.
Suddenly it seems the party's over. And it's a sad thing! The life of
the church to a large extent is the spirit of the truth working in our relationships
and responsibilities. It is the joy and fulfillment of understanding and
participating in the marriage of what is good and true from the Lord through
His Word. But if the spirit of that truth is lacking, what's the point?
We might as well go home. In our world today we can watch religion on TV,
or we can just read about it, or we can seek and find it in some other circle
of friends outside the church.
But in the story the mother of the Lord comes to Him with the problem.
The affection for truth, the longing that we all have within us for the
joy of that fulfillment, "speaks" to Him hoping that He will do something
to restore the sense of life and purpose. So we, too, may pray that the
Lord will help us in our disillusionment and restore the joy of involvement
in the church.
But how? What does the Lord say? In the story He points to the six large,
stone jugs in the courtyard of the house - near the entrance - and tells
the servants to fill them with water. Then He tells them to draw some out,
and take it to the master of the feast.
Now here is an improbable scene. The water in those jugs was for purification,
for washing hands and feet as people came in from outside. But these people
were inside already. Why should they go back to where they started? Or if
they had water to pour why did they have to pour it into those jugs instead
of having it turn into wine right away?
Well, the answer is that the water could not become wine apart from this
process. And what is the process within us? In a sense it is a return to
basics; it is a commitment to refill the reservoirs and refresh the memories
of the simple truths of the Word that have been given to us for the cleansing
of our lives. Remember there were six water pots, each one of two or three
"firkins" (about 20 or 30 gallons). "Six" is a number that reminds us of
the labor of creation, and therefore a full state of preparation for the
influx of life from the Lord. "Two or three" (much like 20 or 30) reminds
us of all the goods and truths that we learn from the Word as we enter into
the life of the church. And the "servants" represent all the lower truths
or thought processes that take orders from the will and conscience above.
So what we have here is the improbable or unlikely suggestion that we
can get real spiritual fulfillment from the simple work of reformation,
the preparation of our minds to wash and cleanse the externals of our lives
so that we are free of the dust and dirt that may come in from all our worldly
concerns. What we have is the principle of knowledge, faith and obedience
as the starting point for all Divine miracles, the willingness to learn
what the Word teaches and to apply it in the simple rituals of courtesy
and hospitality and kindness and friendship and acceptance of others.
And in our case we have the special responsibility of learning new and
deeper truths from the Lord than He has ever revealed to people before.
Of course, even these truths of doctrine and of the spiritual sense are
still just bits of knowledge, like water in a jug, until we draw them out
and put them to work. But if we do so as the Lord directs, then out of this
reservoir of knowledge and experience, with His help we will also draw the
deeper insights, the rich, rewarding and refreshing insights of spiritual
life that are full of all the complex, variety of flavors of the vineyard
that is the Lord's church.
The acknowledgment of Providence, the Writings say, is nothing if it
doesn't include the acknowledgment that it works in the smallest details
of everything. And "small" in our experience may also mean the seemingly
insignificant things. But one lesson that the Lord teaches us in this first
of all His miracles is that true spiritual life is gained first of all through
very natural and external commitments. What is it the Buddhists say? - "If
you want to be enlightened, cut wood, or fetch water." So in the Writings
we learn that filling the water jugs and then drawing out from them represents
the commitment to serve, to live according to the things we know, to act,
to do, to use the principles of truth in our own lives so that the Lord
can flow into these things and transform even the most ordinary routines
into opportunities to feel the delight of heaven.
Water is truth. Wine is the spirit of truth. We can't have the latter
without the former. Nor will the knowledge of the Word become the wisdom
of life until we put it to work. But when we do, with the Lord's help a
most amazing miracle can take place, so that no matter how unfulfilled we
may have felt we can return to the celebration of life inspired and renewed
in faith. Amen.
Lessons: John 4:1-14, John 2:1-12, A.E. 376:29