How the Wedding at Cana Retells the Story of Eden

Most of the parallels between the gospels and the Genesis account of Eden seem to be at the beginning and ending of Jesus’ life.

For example, Mary’s dialogue with the angel is a reversal of the devil’s temptation of Eden. Likewise the cross is a reversal of the tree: in Eden, eating the fruit of the tree had condemned mankind but on the cross, the tree becomes a symbol of redemption. The fruit of cross, the Eucharist, is life giving rather than life taking. (I explored some other parallels between the Incarnation and Eden in this article last week.)

But there is another moment of radical reversal in the middle of Jesus’ story that gets overlooked. 

The story is certainly a familiar one, but it’s not one we think of as being connected to Eden. It involves Mary, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and His first miracle.

 

It’s the wedding at Cana. (Read the account in John 2 here.)

Consider the parallels.

In Eden, Eve brings the fruit to Adam, inducing Him to eat it. Eve acts as the initiator, awakening Adam’s desire for the forbidden food. (Read the account in Genesis 3 here.)

At Cana, Mary, the new Eve, initiates. In this case, it’s not fruit, but wine made from the fruit of the vine. But, unlike the old Eve, Mary does not draw Jesus to the wine. Instead, she goes to Jesus asking Him to fulfill the need for wine.

The old Eve was so filled with the fullness of material goods that she left little room for God. The new Eve was conscious of mankind’s emptiness, leaving room for God to act. The first Eve was defined by pride. The second by humility.

Again: the old Eve did not do whatever God told her. The new Eve, on the other hand, stands out for telling the wedding servers to do whatever the son of God told them.

There are deeper ties between the two accounts. In the first, some have seen the fruit as symbolizing carnal lust, which fits, since Adam had just met Eve and announced their conjugal union.

Remember, after seeing Eve, Adam declares, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” The narrator adds: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen. 2:23-24).

It is clear, then, that there has been some kind of a primal marriage between Adam and Eve. The episode with the fruit happens immediately next, in Genesis 3.

Again, this interpretation is reinforced by the aftermath of the eating, which is recorded in verse 6. Notice what verse 7 says, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” This may seem like a strange reaction to eating forbidden fruit unless we understand that fruit as a visible and tangle symbol of their carnal lust.

It goes without saying that in the case of Cana, the wine—standing in for the fruit—is associated with purity, not lust. There are two textual clues that signify this. The first is that the water used for the wine was taken from ceremonial jugs used for cleansing. The second is that the wine was a gift of Jesus to the couple. Lust is about taking, whereas true pure love is a gift.

In this case, marital self-giving is situated in the context of the redemptive roles that Jesus and Mary exercise. In the story of Cana, we are given a vision of Jesus’ completely gratuitous self-gift. Grace is not something to be seized but instead something received from God. And then, in Mary, we see a portrait of the part she plays in our redemption: it is her role to be aware of mankind’s emptiness and His need to be filled with the joy of the divine wine. Bring your emptiness to Mary, ask Jesus for His fullness.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock

Stephen Beale

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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