Certainly, the changing of water into wine is an astounding accomplishment; its being the first miracle story told by John about the public life of Jesus shows its ability to make clear the identity of Jesus. "It was the first of Jesus' signs" and "the disciples believed in him". But not only does this miracle help reveal the identity of Jesus (in John: the Word-made-flesh and the Son of God); it presents another aspect of the meaning of Jesus and of his life on earth, and it is this which I wish to reflect on here.
If one were to eliminate the objection of Jesus ("What is this to me; my hour has not yet come"), John's story has to do simply with a miracle. But it is this objection that offers a second meaning to this story, and that meaning develops as follows. First, the amount of wine Jesus presents is excessive to the needs of the wedding party; the group had already finished lots of wine. Why this excess, some 120 gallons of wine at the minimum? Second, this wine exceeds in goodness that which was first served to the wedding party. Given that John had already noted how 'Jesus Christ' surpasses 'Moses' (1,17), we suspect that John, so famous for symbolism, means to illustrate once again how superior Jesus is the the past gifts to Israel. Indeed, such symbolism calls to mind that wine was a symbol of the great days of the perfect kingdom for which Israel had long thirsted and believed would come from God's love some day.
Symoblism moves us backward to Jesus' strange intervention. His question to the 'woman' suggests that, before his hour has passed, he is most reluctant to provide the precious wine from his power. Now, it is clear in John that the "hour" of Jesus is his death and resurrection. This means that Jesus is unwilling to provide the fullness of the kingdom (represented in symbolism by an excess of wine) until after he dies and rises.
All of this leads to the conclusion that, though Jesus works wonders that make one think the kingdom of God is now to take place on earth, the kingdom will not come until after Jesus dies and rises. Thus, the first story in John is a warning: no matter what Jesus will do throughout his public life, one must wait till after he dies and rises to have the fullness of the kingdom of God, the fullest happiness. It is a story which explains why Jesus could be the one to bring the kingdom without his having brought the kingdom; yes, his miracles are signs that he can establish the perfect world of happiness, but one will not be allowed to think that Jesus will do this before he dies and rises. The reader is forewarned, then, by Jesus' question to his mother, that though the Gospel will give every reason "for belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that one who believes may have life" (20,31) - the kingdom of God will not come in the public life of Jesus.
An extrapolation from the above is that the kingdom of God may not come our lives, either; that does not, as the Gospel argues, mean that Jesus will not bring the kingdom. He will, once his Father has decided to bestow it in all its fullness. Till then, we live, as did Jesus: awaiting death and resurrection.
The Cana story encourages recognition that it is Jesus who has the power to provide the fullest happiness, but it also advises that this fullness will come only after he dies - and by extension, after we die and rise.
John Kilgallen, SJ