A Meditation on Kothine Sunday

Meditation on Kothine Sunday (St.
John 2:1-11)


Reading and understanding of the
Gospel according to St. John is an extremely difficult task. John has applied
several traditions of his time to analyze, interpret and record the words and
works of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. St. John has used his knowledge
of Old Testament, Hellenistic concepts, rabbinic literature and even Gnostic
themes in his Gospel. This is evident from the symbols and terminology he has
used. For Orthodox Christians, as it is explained in the matrimonial liturgy
hymn (… suvisesham yohannane …), it is important to understand the
Gospel terminology in its true spirit. Phrases like the Word, the hour, the
sign etc. and symbols like light, darkness, water, wine, lamb etc. are to be understood
well in their respective background to get the meaning and purpose of John’s

The passage that is selected by
the Church to be read as the Holy Gospel reading on Kothine Sunday which
is the Sunday of the opening of great lent is St. John 2:1-11. This Sunday is
also called Peturtho. The word pethurtho comes from the Syriac
root ptr which means ‘go away’ or ‘return from (a banquet). Kothine
is used because Cana is called by its other name Kothine in Syriac
Bible. This passage is the last part of the calling of the disciples that
starts at 1:35 and ends at 2:11 where we have the concluding statement “and his
disciples believed in him”. So what happened at Cana becomes a testimony for
those who were called by Jesus to believe in him. The question is, does what
happens in history and nature make us believe in our Lord or we still ask for
proof in our own personal lives to believe in him?

The event can be explained in one
word, ‘a messianic sign’. The word ‘sign’ itself is to be understood in John’s
Gospel uniquely. It becomes more crucial when we understand that unlike the
other three (Synoptic) Gospels, there is no wonder or miracle worked by Jesus
in John’s Gospel. No event to John is an occurrence in itself. It should become
a sign for something greater, sacramental and Messianic (here the word
sacramental is to be understood distinctly from western interpretation). There
are altogether seven signs in John (2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-15; 6:1-14; 6:15-22;
9:1-41 and 11:38-44). To an Orthodox faithful happening something in terms of a
blessing from God (these days all we look for in life is miracles) should be
sacramental and therefore should have wider implications.

The event happens on the 3rd
day after Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel. 
What happened here is some thing related to what was promised to
Nathaniel in 1:50 (greater things than this …) climax of which is said in 1:51.
Reference to third day reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the
third day. This is the ultimate goal and destiny of any sign that may happen in
this world. If a disease is cured, a better job is sought, some progress in
life is experienced in some one’s life, it should not end there. Rather should
lead to resurrection of that person which will also be salvific to all others.
It should not be made a private, personal and selfish experience of an
individual or a small group.

 The presence of Mary is quite significant to
the whole event. She brings the matter to Jesus and then directs the servants
to follow his command. Incidentally the command of Jesus may not be found so
much reasonable to any one not to speak the servants. Here what was needed was
wine and what Jesus asked them to bring was water. This may sound absurd and
may be rejected by the servants. Mary is indirectly cautioning them not to
disobey. The role of saints as seen by Orthodox Church fits very well with what
we see here. They stand with us in prayers (commonly used Syriac phrase in this
regard says sluthek aman – pray with us) and also directs us to follow
Jesus. Unfortunately we take only the first part that is bringing our need to
the Lord. The second part which is they asking us to follow Jesus is not heard
by us most of the time. We know what he would be telling us. He will ask us to “love
one another even as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12), ‘be his friend and
obey his commandments’ (John 15:14) and be united to one another (17:21). We do
not like these things so much and so we ignore that part.

Jesus’ address of Mary “O woman”
(v.4) is seen elsewhere also, particularly at the cross (19:26). The Greek word
gunai does not have any disrespect tone. Hence it could be better
translated as ‘O loady’. Verses  4 to 7
have to be read together. Detaching one verse from the section and commenting
on it to say either ‘Jesus did not respect his mother’ or ‘Jesus ‘dismissed her
without consideration’ would be against the spirit of the total message of the
text. Jesus’ primary mission is not related to individual and alienated issues.
Every issue he deals with is to be understood in the context of a larger goal
which is ‘sacramental’ or ‘soteriological’ in theological terms. What was to
happen in Cana cannot be understood as a work on the basis of Jesus’ or his
mother’s concern for just that particular family or those guests in the marriage
feast. So he asks “what is for us?”. The same question will be asked by Jesus
when we present our selfish and individualistic prayers before him directly or
through the saints. We have to prove to him that our needs in prayer carry
greater and wider relevance. The next statement supports this explanation.
Jesus says, “My time has not yet come”. The term ‘hour’ has special meaning in St.
John. There are 22 occurrences of the word in the Gospel. Most of them refer to
something that is to happen in Jesus’ life or in the life of others including
the disciples. Special mention is to be made to 12:23 and 17:1 where he speaks
about the ‘hour’ that had come. There he was speaking about his time to be
crucified as the Lamb of God (Greek word ‘hora’ means ‘the specific
time’ and is used in this sense in all these three occasions. Compare it with
Matthew 26:45). So what would happen at Cana can only be a sign of what is to
happen on the cross (12:16,23; 13:31 f.). It is the time for his glorification
and that will be the crucifixion and resurrection. This is revealing of the glory
of God the Father (17:5,14) and is manifested in Jesus’ works (11:4,40). The
wine is the symbol of blood that was to be poured on the cross. The tasting of
wine is to be the sign of acceptance of the cup of the blood of Jesus and
satisfaction expressed by the master of the event is to be the sign of the
salvation of everyone who would taste of his blood. Thus the whole event
becomes a sign of the messianic banquet that is to happen in the kingdom of
God. This is what we foretaste in H. Eucharist. Jesus was telling his mother
that the ‘hour’ for that has not yet arrived.

Mary knew what Jesus would do. So
she does not stay any further pleading again with her son, rather goes to the
servants to give them necessary direction. The word used for servant is not the
one for domestic servants. Out of 12 occurrences of the word in the Gospel,
five including this one, have used the Greek word for deacon (DIAKON – 2:5,9;
12:26; 15:15,20) and the rest slave (DULOS -4:51; 13:16; 18:10,17,18,26,36).
This also tells us that the event at Cana is to be understood in a sacramental
context. The deacons, who serve in the Church distribute what is provided by Jesus
for the congregation, Jesus’ guests (Luke 22:27). In such situation presence of
Mary (or saints) is a must, not formally invited (in the text she was not an
invited person, rather was there as part of the household or family – 2:1).

Jesus asks the deacons to get
water in the jars kept for the purification rite. God always uses human
participation in working out his mission to save humans. Humans are created in
His image and likeness and has been breathed His breath in to his nostrils to
participate with God in His work (see Genesis 2:19-20). But human’s failure to
participate, irrespective of the saints request to that cause, is much painful
to God.

The event is used by John to talk
about the inadequacy of one of Jewish customs. There were only six jars, one
short of seven the number of perfection and fullness. In addition to that they
were not filled up. The water turned wine was served to the steward. But no one
knew what happened there when it was tasted top quality wine. This is mystery
and hence a sacrament. No one knows how the bread becomes Jesus’ body and the
wine Jesus’ blood. This is what the Jews were asking in astonishment (John
6:52). This is what we celebrate in every H. Eucharist. This is said to be the
first sign Jesus performed during his public ministry. But the sentence
construction would suggest that ‘first’ may also mean ‘the most important’ one.
Of course, this was the first (chronologically) sign recorded.  Wine in Rabbinic Judaism is a symbol of Jewish
Torah or Law. At Cana it was proven to be insufficient to satisfy the need of
the guests in the banquet (Rom. 3:20). The new law that Jesus gives through
pouring out of his blood is sufficient to make every one more than content and
satisfied. When we are satisfied, glory of God is manifested. The retelling of the
event in John concludes with the words, ‘’the disciples believed in him”. The
Church narrates to us this event that we may believe in him (19:31) and have
life in him (3:16).

The Church requires us to read
and meditate on this passage on the opening day of the great lent which
prepares us to the most important (first) event of pouring out of the intoxicating
wine on the cross. The Church invites us to be part of a feast that surpasses
all feasts. We are called to participate in a joy that is given by our Lord
through the perfecting of all imperfections. Every moment of joy and happiness
in human life without notice could slip away in to a moment of suffering, shame
and dishonor. The presence of Christ by way of ‘being invited’ will certainly
remove that slippery nature of our moments and make them moments of greater joy
and satisfaction. Mary and saints are always there and they pray with us and
asks us to follow Jesus’ commandments.

Yuhanon Mor Meletius, Thrissur