The story of Christ’s very first miracle is found only in St John’s gospel. It took place during a wedding at Cana in Galilee, near where Christ grew up. His mother was there as a guest of the couple. Both Christ and his disciples had also been invited.
During the wedding banquet, there was a problem with the catering. Possibly because the newlyweds were short of money, the wine ran out. The Virgin Mary noticed that this was happening and mentioned it to Christ, hoping that he would somehow save the day.
Christ told her that it wasn’t yet the right time for him to work a miracle. But Mary, knowing his kindness, said to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you”. Then Christ told them to fill six enormous stone jars with water. After they did so, he told them to pour some of its contents for the man in charge of the banquet.
Miraculously, the water in the jars had turned into wine. When the man in charge of the banquet tasted it, he remarked on its high quality. Christ had not only provided enough wine for the banquet, but the equivalent of 150 gallons – or around 900 bottles of wine. What a great wedding present!
Reflecting on this passage, Pope St John Paul II said: “Describing Mary’s presence in Jesus’ public life, the Second Vatican Council recalls her involvement at Cana on the occasion of the first miracle: “At the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah (cf. John 2:1-11)”
He went on: “Following the Evangelist John, the Council points out the Mother’s discreet and effective role, when by her words she persuades her Son to perform his “first sign”. Although her influence is discreet and maternal, her presence proves decisive.”
He concluded: “At the end of the account of Jesus’ first miracle, made possible by the firm faith of the Lord’s Mother in her divine Son, the Evangelist John concludes: “and his disciples believed in him” (2:11). At Cana, Mary begins the Church’s journey of faith, preceding the disciples and directing the servants’ attention to Christ.”
Scripture scholars have also noted how the miracle of the wine points towards the Last Supper, when Christ declared the wine to be “the blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:22-25). The fact that Christ’s first miracle took place at a wedding has also long been interpreted as a sign of his blessing on marriage in general.
This intriguing painting of the miracle is the work of a Filipino portrait painter, Ramon Gaston. It’s one of a series of six large paintings picturing the life of the Virgin Mary that hang on the walls of St Patrick’s, Redfield. The paintings, which took a total of four and a half years to complete, feature parishioners as well as the artist’s family and friends.
The only figure not based on a live model is the Virgin Mary herself. In the centre, we see her in conversation with Christ about the lack of wine for the banquet. In this almost photographic scene, a discussion takes place on the right about the quality of the wine, while the newlyweds on the left sit at table.
The painting is full of fascinating details that really bring the gospel story to life. Look out for the bird observing the scene from above, the guest asleep at the table, the life of the town beyond and the spilled wine symbolising Christ’s blood.
Where to find this work of art
St Patrick’s, Redfield
Read the relevant passage