Water to Wine: The Beginning of Signs…


John 2:1-12 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  (2)  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  (3)  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”  (4)  Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”  (5)  His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  (6)  Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  (7)  Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  (8)  And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it.  (9)  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  (10)  And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”  (11)  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  (12)  After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

Apocalypse Explained 340[4] They have seen Thy goings, O God. The singers went before, the minstrels after, in the midst of the maidens playing on timbrels. Bless ye God in the assemblies, the Lord from the fountain of salvation* (Ps. 68:24-26).
“To bless God in the assemblies, the Lord from the fountain of salvation,” signifies to glorify the Lord from spiritual truths, which are truths from good. “Assemblies” in the Word have a similar signification as “people,” namely, those who are in spiritual truths, and abstractly, those truths themselves; and “fountain of salvation” signifies spiritual good, since salvation is by means of that good; spiritual good is the good of charity towards the neighbor, and spiritual truth is the truth of faith from that good.

Apocalypse Explained 376[4] That “wine” signifies spiritual good, or the good of charity and the good of faith, which in its essence is truth, can be seen from the following passages in the Word. In Isaiah:
Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no silver; come ye, buy and eat; buy wine and milk without silver and without price (Isa. 55:1).
Anyone can see that this does not mean that wine and milk may be bought without silver, “wine and milk” therefore signify things spiritual, namely, “wine” spiritual good, which in its essence is truth, as was said above, but “milk” the good of that truth. That these are given by the Lord freely to those who are ignorant of truth and good, and yet in a desire for these, is signified by “he that hath no silver, come ye, buy and eat; buy without silver;” “to buy” signifies to acquire for oneself, and “to eat” signifies to make one’s own, which is done by application as from oneself. Those who are ignorant of truth and good, and yet are in a desire for them, are evidently meant, for it is said, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” “to thirst” signifying to desire, and “waters” signifying truths, here the Word where truths are.

We have been looking at what the Heavenly Doctrines teach on the subject of miracles, signs and wonders and have found that these things serve very different uses depending on the state of the person who witnesses them.  For the unbelieving we saw that miracles are able to persuade for a time but that no saving faith is possible through witnessing miracles as such.  To those who believe miracles are signs that bare witness to spiritual realities and as such serve to affirm the faith they already possess.  Perhaps the key for us today is seeing that the miracles the Lord performed while in the world and recorded in the Word fit into the larger context of His ongoing work of saving the human race.  While it was certainly individuals in the world that were directly affected by, and bodily conditions that were addressed, the Lord’s purposes in performing these works cannot be understood apart from what they mean in terms of eternal ends.  If we fail to see this then we risk falling into seeking the miraculous, or other manifestations of spiritual phenomena, as an end in itself, and when that happens the spiritual becomes something natural and can even degenerate into a form of entertainment.

The reason these works in the gospels are called signs is that they indicate or point to very real inner processes of a spiritual nature.  To those whose faith and practise is focussed on the inner realities of their mental life or spirit all that is recorded in the Word serves as signs because they carry within them an inner meaning that mirrors their own experience of engaging with the Word. Our inner life with all its changes of states of thought and affection is quite literally mapped out in these signs and this is the greatest miracle of all.  To have a spiritual understanding of the Word is to be able to see its application to the life of our spirits and use it to purify our affections and thoughts from anything that stands opposed to the heavenly life.  It is in our inner life that the works the Lord did in the world have to find their fulfilment if their true benefit is to be realised in our conjunction with heavenly influences.
As a general principle the mind or spiritual world, which is what the mind is, is the world of causes whereas the body is the world of effects that re-present mental phenomena on the physical plane of consciousness.  On a larger scale every work the Lord performed on the physical plane when in the world was a re-presentation of changes that He brought about in the collective spiritual mind of the human race as a whole. His primary focus was and always is on the condition of the human spirit. This collective mind in the spiritual world that is made up of every individual mind had become sick and diseased as to its exterior part due to the evils and falsities that had built up there as a result of the degeneration of the faith and charity of those in the world who had died and pass on. People on the earthly plane of existence receive inflow from the spiritual world which filters inflow of life from the Lord and affects the quality of what is received into their mental life.  As conditions deteriorated in the spiritual world the ability for the human race to discriminate between good and evil influences internally also degraded to the point where evils or the loves of self and the world held sway.
It was at this point that the Lord came into the world.  And He did so to re-presented in physical form on the material plane, through His interactions with people, places, and objects, the inner processes of the mind and in particular the activity of Divine Truth within the human mind.  In this way an external re-presentation of inner realities was given permanence on the lowest plane of consciousness through the written revelation that is the Word we have today.  This now enables the Lord to access to human minds via an external way by which He can begin to order the personal spiritual worlds of individuals on earth in a way that hadn’t been available before.

This process by which our salvation can be realised is presented before us in the account of Jesus’ changing of the water into wine.  “The beginning of signs” is how the gospel describes it.  Its context is a marriage in Cana of Galilee.  And its worth noting that the power of this sign has not diminished with time for, through the understanding that the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity we see that its manifestation in the world points to a continuous spiritual reality that is played out in the minds of every human being who looks to the Lord in His Word.  But if we are to enter into the inner processes being described here, if we are to gain some understanding of its application, we need to think spiritually and to do that we need first to drop all natural ideas of persons, places, and times, and think in terms of what these elements might represent within us.

We begin with person Jesus.  Seeing Jesus in the Word apart from sensual and bodily associations isn’t easy, but it’s essential if we are to enter into the spiritual meaning of the story.  To help us do that we need to focus on the name as a divine quality rather than a person in history.  The name Jesus (Jehovah Saviour) in the Word, spiritually understood, refers to the activity of the Lord’s love, or His desire for the salvation of the human race. This love flows into everyone working to hold in place states of mind that hold open the possibility for their regeneration.  When we read of the Lord being in the world and His movement from place to place we need to see that we are looking at a representation of how the Divine presence inflows into the world of the natural mind looking to be received there.  Places in the Word represent states of mind, and the places in which we find the Lord represent states of mind that are able to receive what is good and true from the Word.  ‘Cana of Galilee’ represents such a state because there is a marriage there and all marriages in the Word represent states of life in which we are making a sincere effort to live from our understanding of truth so as to bring goodness into life.

Such efforts are what nurture the spiritual life and form the matrix within our minds through which the Lord’s love for the salvation of the human race can be conceived and brought forth in us personally.  So it is we read that “the mother of Jesus was there…,” or an affection which is able to nurture states of life into which the Divine Good can operate.  ‘The mother of Jesus’ is nothing other than a genuine affection for truth which is an affection that is constantly looking to put truth into practise.  When sincere efforts are made in this regard it opens the way for the Lord’s presence as goodness to enter and infill and give light to the mind through those truths that have been prepared for that purpose.  This opening up to receiving divine and spiritual things is described in the Word as ‘Jesus and His disciples being called to the marriage.’  To ‘be called’ spiritually means to have what is good and truth drawn forth into conscious awareness.  When we make an effort to apply our understanding of spiritual truths to the life of our mind a perception of goodness represented by Jesus and truths represented by the disciples is called, awakened, and strengthened in our life.

This presence of Jesus and His disciples coincides with the arising of a sense of lack related to the wine running out.  It is the affection for truth in its struggle to see truths applied to life that highlights our insufficiency or lack.  The running down of the wine represents those states in which we find what has sustained our sense of joy in the spiritual life no longer seems to be able to meet our needs as it once did.  We can of course apply this on many levels.  On the universal level it represents the fall of the Jewish church prior to the rise of the Christian church.  In general it can also represent a state of being when the forms of religious life that served us in the past decline making way for the possibility of the arising of new forms.  On a more personal level it represents states of spiritual life in which we feel a lack of joy, excitement or energy, states in which we might feel despondent and unsure of where things are at for us, personally or even as a church organisation in the world called to further the Lord’s work in bringing the gospel that the Lord is the Word.  What the Word teaches us here is that such states not only happen but are to be expected for they are the means by which renewal is made possible.  The beauty of this story is that we are given insights into the process and what it is we must do if we are to find a resolution to the lack we feel.
The human tendency to deal with a sense of lack is to up the intensity and drive harder into those things that have served us well in the past. The trouble with this is that over time we tend to build up a lot of habits and ways of doing things that overlay the essentials, and it is that overlay, particularly when it forms our sense of security that makes it difficult to differentiate between what is actually essential and what is superfluous.  More often than not in states of deep attachment to forms the superfluous or non-essentials come to be seen as essential because we can’t imagine how things can be otherwise.  The essentials of religion are an acknowledgement of God and repentance (Divine Providence 340[2]).  That’s it.  The essentials of the new church are the acknowledgement that the Lord is God, or that His Human is Divine, and a life in accordance with the 10 Commandments (Apocalypse Revealed 494).

So to find our way forward in a time of lack we need to get back to the essentials and start again from there.  This is represented in the story by the following steps…

1.    Handing over of the servants to the Lord
2.    The filling of the six water pots with water
3.    Drawing the water that it might be shared amongst others

The handing over of the servants to the Lord by Jesus’ mother represents the acknowledgement that the Lord is God, for the servants represent aspects in the natural man that have been brought under the authority of the affection for truth represented by the mother to serve the spiritual life.  Her commanding them to do “whatever he says” is a shift in state where the authority over the natural man shifts from a focus on truth and the intellectual things of faith to a new focus on good and the application of truths to life.  To acknowledge that the Lord is God and that His Human is Divine is to acknowledge that He is the Word right down to its very letter.  The Human of the Lord is what contains the Divine and this is the letter of the Word for the Lord is found nowhere else.  The Lord’s Human being made Divine occurs when the letter is acknowledged to be His Human.

The process of that acknowledgement is described in the use of six stone pots for the purification of the Jews.  Ritualised washings were superseded in the Christian Church by the rite of Baptism and both represent the power of the Word to cleanse the affections and thoughts of the spirit when truths from the Word are put to use to examine the quality of our mental life.  Stone, water, and wine, are all elements that correspond to truth, their difference in quality highlighting a different forms or qualities that truth takes.  Stone is the lowest form, and stone pots represent the Word as to its letter for the letter is the vessel or container and foundation for the spiritual and celestial senses found within it.  In those who are responsive to their understanding of the Word the inflowing life of the Lord, represented by Jesus in the story today, directs their focus to the letter of the Word represented by the stone pots.  The servants’ obedience to the Lord’s directions to fill the pots with water represents how when we are faithful to our understanding of the Word the letter begins to take on new meaning and is ‘filled’ with the truths of faith.  These truths of faith from the Word are of a higher quality than the stone of the letter because they can be used to purify our actual life of its evils so that goodness might be brought forth into life.  When the Word is used to examine our individual and collective life and guide us in the work of repentance goodness can be drawn forth from the letter to meet any lack.  This spiritual goodness is represented by the water becoming wine as it is drawn forth from the pots to be shared with others.

This sign is the beginning of signs because it is the principle sign to which all other signs relate.  Everything in the Word relates to the marriage of good and truth and to the processes involved in the marriage of the will and the understanding within the minds of people.  In fact the Doctrines teach that everything in creation relates to this marriage because it is a reality that exists in the Lord Himself and all that is from Him must reflect this reality.  From the perspective of living a spiritual life everyone is called to work with the Lord towards this inner marriage.  It is the sole purpose for which the Church on earth exists, to support and create opportunities for people to become aware of what the Lord has provided for the salvation of all.  It is only through the marriage of truth to life that good can be brought forth into life and it is in the bringing forth of that good in people’s lives that the Lord is glorified and His salvation realised.

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on Him.


About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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