Jesus and the New Genesis

Three quick points, based upon John 1-2 (and especially the Wedding at Cana) on the New Genesis which Jesus brings into the world:

I. Jesus Brings About a New Genesis


The wedding at Cana from John 2:1-12 is Jesus’ first miracle. The account is pretty famous:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, (his) brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days.

The first thing to notice here is John’s cryptic phrase “on the third day.”  I had always understood this to be “on the third day of the wedding,” but that’s not what it says.  It turns out that this is part of a beautiful picture being subtly painted by St. John — a picture which Pope Benedict draws attention to in his writings (I think I read about this in Jesus of Nazareth, but my memory fails me).  To fully get it, you need to read Genesis 1, and then read John 1-2.  An outline of Genesis 1-2 looks like this:

  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
  •  “the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5)
  • “the second day” (Genesis 1:6-8)
  • “the third day” (Genesis 1:9-13)
  • “the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14-19)
  • “the fifth day” (Genesis 1:20-23)
  • “the sixth day” (Genesis 1:24-31)
  • “Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3).

A beginning, and seven days. An outline of John 1-2 looks like this:

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1).  
  • “the next day” (John 1:29-1:34)
  • “the next day” (John 1:35-1:42)
  • “the next day” (John 1:43-51)
  • “on the third day,” that is, three days later (John 2:1)
A beginning, a brief section on John the Baptist, and seven days.  So both of them start with the beginning of time, and then describe the events afterwards as a week.  John does this by telling the week from John the Baptist’s foretelling of Christ to the wedding at Cana.  This isn’t an accident.  He’s purposely presenting Christ’s coming into the world as bringing a New Genesis.  In that context, a lot of things pop out.  The fact that at the culmination of this week, Christ calls Mary “Woman” makes sense, since she’s the New Eve in this New Genesis, and that was still Eve’s name at this point in Genesis (compare Genesis 2:22-23 and John 2:4).  
II. The New Genesis Comes About Through the Resurrection

This phrase “on the third day” also has a specific Christological meaning, though, too.  Every other time it’s used in the New Testament (Matt. 16:21, Matt. 17:23, Matt. 20:19, Matt. 27:64, Luke 9:22, Luke 13:32, Luke 18:33, Luke 24:7, Luke 24:21, Luke 24:46, Acts 10:40, Acts 27:19, and 1 Cor. 15:4), it’s about the Resurrection.  It also frequently refers to the Resurrection in the Old Testament. So, for example, it’s “on the third day” (Gen. 22:4) that Abraham is saved from having to sacrifice Isaac, which we’re told prefigures the Resurrection (Hebrews 11:19), and Exodus 19 tells of God coming to Israel “on the third day.”  Hosea 6:2 promises a spiritual Resurrection on the third day: “He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.”  This is specifically tied with the Incarnation of Christ in Hosea 6:3.
So whereas the culmination of the Old Testament week was the Sabbath, Saturday, with its day of rest, the culmination of the New Testament week is Sunday, with a new dawn, and a rising again.

III. Water Into Wine
Connected with this New Covenant and New Genesis is the image of the jars of water, which John specifies are for Jewish ceremonial washings.  St. Augustine, in his commentary on this (quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea), says:
Now if He ordered the water to be poured out, and then introduced the wine from the hidden recesses of creation, He would seem to have rejected the Old Testament. But converting, as He did, the water into wine, He showed us that the Old Testament was from Himself; for it was as by His order that the waterpots were filled. But those Scriptures have no meaning, if Christ be not understood there.

So just as the water turned into something greater in the wine, the Old Covenant turned into something greater in the New.  The New Genesis wasn’t an abrogation of the Old, but a fulfillment of it.  In the same way, grace builds upon nature, and the flesh is united with the spirit to reach its fulfillment.  As a result of this, the people of God are able to go from worrying about drawing away from the world under the Old Covenant (ceremonially washing themselves from the filth of the world), to joyfully engaging the world in the New (rejoicing with wine).

4 Comments

  1. Sometimes I wonder why John is not put as the first book of the New Testament. It would also mean the two books by Luke would be side by side. I think it would have highlighted the parallels with the first chapter of Genesis if the New Testament also started with “In the beginning…”

  2. I like it. The Gospels are in what’s likely chronological order (John was definitely written last), but there’s no reason John couldn’t have been first, and Luke & Acts together.

  3. Wow, I really liked this post. I had never noticed that parallel between John and Genesis, but it totally fits. Reading this post made my day and you can bet I’ll be looking into this! Thank you for writing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *