To begin at the beginning, John’s Gospel opens with a retelling of Creation:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
The evangelist then moves on to describe the beginning of Christ’s public ministry in a series of “days.” He describes Christ’s baptism and calling of the disciples, evoking the theme of a new creation. And it is on the seventh day of John’s Gospel that the wedding at Cana takes place.
1 On the third day [after the calling of Philip and Nathanael on day four] a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.*”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
* The Greek fathers read this as “Has my hour now come?”
There are several important features to note here.
First of all, there is the enigmatic way in which Christ refers to Mary as “woman.” While a polite form of address, it is extremely unusual for a son to refer to his mother in this way. Given the evangelist’s highly symbolic style, he must have intended to draw attention to this oddity.
Is there any special significance to the term “woman” in Johannine literature? In fact, there is: the woman of Revelation 12. (Yes, I know about the whore of Babylon, but anyone suggesting that as a parallel needs to have his head examined.)
Of course, using the term “woman” to refer to Mary in the context of John’s prologue and his theme of new creation strongly suggests that we should be seeing a connection to the woman of the old creation: Eve.
When looked at from this perspective, Mary’s actions at Cana constitute an inversion of Eve’s actions in the garden. Where Eve doubted, Mary had faith. Where Eve took the fruit for herself, Mary provided wine to others. Where Eve tempted Adam into sin, Mary inspired the New Adam to his first sign.
Speaking of signs… In John’s gospel, the wine at Cana is clearly a prefiguring (sign) of the Eucharist*. And constant Christian interpretation has read the fruit of the garden as a prefiguring of the true “fruit of the tree of life” in the Eucharist.
Together, all of this adds up to one thing: Mary is the New Eve. “[T]he knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.” (Irenaeus)
* This is the first of three miracles which occur around Passover in John. The first is turning water into wine. The second is multiplying the bread and loaves. The third is the Eucharist at the Last Supper.