Of Waterpots and New Wine

By Staci Stallings

And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus was also invited, and His disciples, to the wedding.  And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification...  John 2: 1-6

There is more of course, but for our purposes we will stop right there. You’ve probably heard this story more times than you can count. It is of course the story of Jesus’ first miracle when He changed water into wine.  And not just any wine, no, the best wine. That lesson is for another article, for now I want to focus on the final eleven words of this passage.

Specifically I want to ask you to reread the passage and look closely at what kind of pots they used.  In my previous reading of this passage, I had always pictured... well, pitchers.  Large earthenware vessels that look like modern day vases. You know the kind you would normally put wine into. But that's NOT what it says!  NO.  They put it in "stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification."  In the Message Bible it says it this way... "six stone pots, used by the Jews for ritual washings..."  Do you know what that means?

Very simply, those pots were used to enforce and carry out the rules, the law, the prescribed way of purifying yourself so you were clean enough to be presentable to society.  Ritual washings were one of the biggest outward signs that someone was steeped in the rules of the Jews.  There was a prescribed amount of time you had to wash, a prescribed amount of times you had to wash... And Jesus used those pots to do something totally new!

On top of that, the ritual washings were meant to show one's attempt to wash away their sin and thus be pure. (If I wash myself enough, if I follow all of the rules, I shall be clean in the eyes of God). But the reality was, people were still dirty.  Their bodies were dirty. Their hands were dirty. Their lives were dirty with sins they could not get rid of no matter how many times they washed themselves. And even when they washed, they got dirty again and thus had to wash again.

And Jesus (isn’t He awesome?) used the pots that had been used to wash people, pots that symbolize us and our lives (dirty and nasty) to put drinking wine in.  That is not just a little inconsequential detail!  That's huge!

In fact, upon closer reading, it does not even say that Jesus first said, “Take those waterpots and wash them out, clean them out, and then fill them.”  No. He said, “Go and fill them.”  In all the times you have read and heard this passage, have you ever for a second pictured those servants as taking the time to go and wash out the pots on their own? 

I haven’t because prior to really reading this, I hadn’t seen the need for them to. However, at the risk of your lunch, consider what they did.  Guests had washed themselves with water from these pots. Surely some of the grime went back in them as they finished.  We don’t know how many guests there were, but I have always pictured a rather large contingent of guests.  At very least we know of fourteen, Jesus, the disciples, and Mary. At minimum, that’s 28 hands, four for each pot, that have recently been washed in them. Now, Jesus says, “Go and fill those with water,” and presumably without the benefit of Dawn Dishwashing Liquid, these pots were filled with water.

Then Jesus said, “Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.”

Something tells me, if I was one of those servants, I wouldn’t have had the guts to tell the headwaiter what kind of receptacles that wine came from. Of course, we all know that the headwaiter proclaimed that this wine was the finest of wines.

So, consider that in one moment, Christ took us, these waterpots, empty yes, but permanently stained with the dirt of many hands. We had been steeped in the myth that our own actions could somehow wash us clean enough to gain entrance into Heaven. He took these empty, dirty, disgusting waterpots, and He poured Himself (His blood--water made wine) into us, and then he did something new!  Not just new wine. The BEST wine!  Not the rules.  Not our sins.  Him.  And He is enough to make us THE BEST!

Believe me, I will never mistake those waterpots for pitchers again, nor will I so easily take for granted the mercy and grace He poured into me, dirty from within with no hope to ever get myself clean enough to earn anything. He did not require me to clean up before He washed me with Himself. He didn’t look at me and say, “Ew, disgusting. Let’s use something else.”

Instead, He looked at me and saw not what I had done and what I was but at what He could do inside of me. That’s the new wine—what He can do in a life, and trust me, it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted, poor dirty waterpot that you were before He showed up.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2006

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