Religion, at its best, is not about rules and regulations. It is not about badgering people to live more moral lives, to work harder and do better. It has little to do with an eternal reward in the sweet by and by for those who keep themselves pure and good through the dreary journey that is the veil of tears we call “life.”

Religion at its best is about transformation.It is about enabling human beings to live as the luminous beams of light we were created to be. It holds out to us the possibility that we might be able to rediscover our true nature and live from that place of truth, beauty, and love that lies at the core of our nature as beings created in the image of God.

Near the beginning of John’s Gospel Jesus demonstrates dramatically that he came to call the world back to the transformative power inherent in the practice and teaching of his own religious tradition.

Jesus is attending a wedding feast; the celebration is in jeopardy. The wine has run out.

Jesus’ mother brings the problem to him. At first he puts her off, claiming that it is not yet time for him to take on the role for which he knows he has come. But eventually Jesus agrees to address the problem of the wine scarcity at the banquet.

There were, John the Gospel writer tells us,

six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. (John 2:6)

What is the point of these “six stone water jars”?

The first point of these “water jars” is quite explicit. They signify “the Jewish rites of purification.” They stand for all the external observances of the Jewish religious system. The practice of ritual washing is referred to in Matthew 15, when the Pharisees challenge Jesus.

Then the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’ (Matthew 15:1,2)

So, Jesus takes the water that is intended to be used to fulfill the ritual practices of the Jewish religious system and replaces it with “the best wine”.  He is indicating that he is calling Jewish believers back to the essence of their own traditions.

Ritual washing was not ever intended to be an end in itself. Jews did not wash before meals simply to clean their hands. They shared in “the rites of purification” to signify their acknowledgement that God alone made them worthy to receive the gifts and bounty of the earth in which they were about to partake. The washing ceremony was a kind of thanksgiving ritual that signaled the washer’s awareness that all of life is a sacred gift.

This points to the slightly more obscure meaning of the fact that there were “six stone jars.” We have already observed that there seems to be a connection between the opening chapter of John’s Gospel and the beginning of the Hebrew book of Genesis. So, when we hear the number six, it should not come as a surprise if our minds go back to Genesis 1:21 and 2:2.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day… And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 

The sixth day is the day on which work is completed in preparation for the seventh day which is the day of rest.

The transformation Jesus inaugurates is brought about, not by human effort, determination, hard work, and grinding self-discipline. The power of God’s Spirit is released in our lives as we learn to rest and trust. The purpose of the six days of work is that we might find within ourselves the place to which the writer of The Letter to the Hebrews points us when he says,

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest. (Hebrews 4:11)

The Gospel of John aims to encourage us to relax and trust in the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. It does not lay out an elaborate self-help program by which we struggle to pull our selves up by our boot straps.

It is no mistake that Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John occurs in the context of a wedding. Weddings are the celebration of  a gift. A wedding embodies the intention of two people to open to one another with the fullness of their being. The couple being married pledge to give themselves to one another and to trust the fullness of that love they celebrate in the wedding ceremony. They are brought together in a mystical union that they cannot create themselves, but can only receive as a gift of that love which has drawn them into their married relationship.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus invites us into union with God. We enter this union by trusting in the power of love at work in the universe and in our lives. Jesus offers us a union of grace in which we begin to rest in the goodness of life and the power of God’s Spirit.

The religion that interested Jesus was not merely about tinkering with our ethics or morality. Jesus was interested in complete transformation. He came to call us back to our true nature (see Luke 15:11-32) as children created in the image of God.