The event at Cana is a special tradition of the Gospel of John. In the Synoptic tradition the temple event is one of the last acts of Jesus’ ministry together with the entry into the city of Jerusalem. Gospel of John has separated both and has kept the entry into the city of Jerusalem at the end of Jesus’ ministry, but has brought the temple event to the very beginning of the ministry. Since this is rather improbable historically, the evangelist of the Gospel of John seems to have a theological purpose in mind.
The first event is taking place in Galilee and the second one is in Judea. These are the two borderlines of Jesus’ mission, from the geographical point of view. So it can summarise the whole mission journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.
What Jesus demands in the first event is “fill up the jars” (Jn 2: 7). This is one of the major scopes of Jesus’ mission. In the second event the demand of Jesus is, “take these things out here” (Jn 2: 16). This is another major concern of Jesus in his ministry. Hence these two demands of Jesus synthesize the ministry of Jesus “in toto”. Thus the evangelist uses the traditions in John 2 with a pragmatic purpose.
The event at Cana must be interpreted on the basis of the following elements: “Third day, wedding, wine, Do whatever he tells you, six stone jars, and keeping the good wine”. These elements are related to the theme of the covenant.
“Wedding” is the symbol of the covenant relationship in the Old Testament. Jesus is here in the place of God and is mediating the establishment of the New Covenant.
“The third day” has its background in Exodus 19. Before the establishment of the Sinai Covenant, God appears to the people on Mount Sinai on the third day after two days of purification. Here, in Jesus God is making his appearance in a definitive way and that also happens on the “third day”.
“Wine” is the symbol of abundance and the messianic era as prophesied by Isaiah 62: 1ff; Joel 2: 18ff; Amos 9: 13 etc. So in Jesus the messianic era has dawned.
“Do whatever he tells you,” the demand of Mary to the servant is an assertion that Jesus is the presence of God. Whatever Jesus commands is the law for the New Covenant community. It is the declaration of the obedience by the new people to the Lord of the Covenant as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Ex 24: 1-8).
So the primary meaning of the narration is that in Jesus the New Covenant is being established. It is the revelation of the divine Sonship of Jesus. The implication is that a response to Jesus by doing whatever he commands we obey God and live up to the fidelity to the Covenant.
The dialogue between Jesus and Mary needs interpretation. Mary presents the situation of the family of Jesus. It is not in the form of a request. She does not exactly say what Jesus has to do. She only states that they have no wine. Jesus replies addressing her “woman”. The evangelist of the Gospel of John has the same address for May by Jesus in John 19: 25-27. There are the only two occasions in which Mary is reported to be present during the mission of Jesus. So it is a purposeful usage from the part of the evangelist to give a particular theological message. Normally in Hebrew family culture one’s mother is not addressed as “woman”. The strangeness in this usage by Jesus, cannot be taken as the basis of lack of respect. Because, it is repeated in the second instance too. Looking at the background, we identify the woman mentioned in the first book of The Bible, in Genesis 3: 15. Here the woman is the mother of the Messiah or the messianic community, in the Christian view, the Church. Then, we have a woman in the last book of The Bible, in Revelation 12: 1ff. This woman too is the symbol of the Church, the messianic community. In both these texts, the Christian interpretation identifies primarily an Ecclesiological significance and gives a Mariological meaning on the secondary level. Taking these texts as the point of departure, we can say that the address “woman” to Mary in the Gospel of John reveals that the individual historical person Mary has here a theological function of representing the messianic community, the Church. She is the type of the Church. If so, she is mediating the realization of the New Covenant. At the foot of the Cross, Mary is standing for the Church, the mother of all believers in Jesus. That is why, by saying, “Do whatever he tells you,” she can voice the obedience of the community of believers to the Covenant God.
In reply Jesus also says, “my hour has not yet come”. The “hour” in the Gospel of John is the hour of passion, death, and resurrection. It is through the Paschal Mystery, the New Covenant will be ratified completely. When Jesus says, “what have you to do with me” it only means that Mary refers to “wine” in the natural sense and Jesus signifies the New Covenant he is mediating with his mission. So Jesus means that “the new covenant implied by the ‘wine’ Mary speaks of, can be really ratified only through his death”. However, when Jesus works the miracles it becomes clear that the ministry of Jesus is already the beginning of the process of ratification.