Thanks for your openness. My apologies that this is going to be a long answer but you have raised a number of interesting points/questions about the story of the Wedding at Cana in John 2 and I want to engage with each of them. I hope that what I offer be of some help in clarifying some of the issues you raise.
First, I think its is important to understand this story in the wider context and purpose of the Gospel by John. John states very clearly what his purpose in writing is: “…Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but what is included is written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Thus, all that is written in John’s Gospel - including the story of the Wedding of Cana in John 2 - are directly intentioned to present readers with “signs” from the eye-witness account of Jesus’ life that lead us to deduce and believe that Jesus is, as he claimed, the Son of God. This correlates strongly with John 2 because the concluding statement about the effect of Jesus turning water into wine is: “This is the first of the signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11) Notice again the same pattern: Jesus revealing his glory/divinity through miraculous signs and people coming to believing in him as the Son of God in response. Christianity is an evidence-based faith. John clearly states that only certain “signs” have been specifically included in his gospel, which raises the question: Why is the “sign” of the Wedding at Cana so important? What did it reveal to the disciples, and to us, about the significance of Jesus?
So when you talk about this incident as a “lesson”, I prefer to think about it as a “sign” which is John’s term for how he wants us to understand it. The thing about “signs” is that they point to things/realities! My wedding ring is a “sign” that I am married, and when people see that sign on my finger it helps them deduce realities about me, namely, that I have a wife. So what is it about this sign of water-wine that points the desciples to deduce that Jesus is from God and worthy of following him?
In response to your question about why did the disciples follow Jesus initially (he did things they didn’t understand vs. he did things they admired him for etc), in some ways John has already answered that question for us in John 1. Right before we get to the wedding story in John 2, John 1 has been telling us how and why these diverse Galilean men first began to follow Jesus and explore his claims. Their reason wasn’t because he did/said things they didn’t understand - exactly the opposite! - he did and said things they DID understand and because of that it raised massive interest, questions, and appeal for them about the significance of who Jesus actually was. At the beginning of John 2, Jesus hasn’t actually done anything miraculous in front of his disciples, what they were initially attracted to was the beauty of his character and how the things he said to them revealed that he knew them at the deepest level of their characters, hopes and thoughts. This sparked their curiosity and drew them to look closer at Jesus and investigate him further regarding whether he might be the Messiah that they were hoping for.
Second, as I’ve mentioned about, the purpose of this miracle is for Jesus to reveal his glory, so I don’t think that this miracle makes any significant statements about the use of divine intervention to cover the reality of lack of material wealth. To help us understand, we need to consider the historical context of an first century Galilean wedding: Such occasions often lasted a week and they weren’t like Western weddings today were we have very specific guest lists that we can judge our catering needs in light of. It was often completely unpredictable who and when people would show up over the course of that week so catering was an unpredictable challenge. That said, culturally it would have been very embarrassing - perhaps even socially shameful - for the groom to not be able to provide sufficient wine for his guests. The whole point of this wedding banquet was for a groom to demonstrate his ability to provide as a husband by providing sufficient food/drink to his guests. To fail to do so wouldn’t necessarily mean demonstrate the lack of material wealth of the groom, it could also demonstrate that he didn’t care about his potential guests nor take their needs seriously enough, even though his had the financial resources to do so.
Third, when Jesus’s mother mentions to him about the lack of wine, it is not necessarily because she wants or expects him to do a miracle. John’s gospel so far gives us no reason to think that Mary was aware of Jesus’ miraculous power. It’s more probable that this was a wedding of a relative of Jesus and Mary and, in addressing the problem to Jesus, Mary is asking Jesus (as an adult male family member) to take some responsibility for finding a practical and natural solution to the problem. In replying with “Women, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” many commentators suggest that Jesus is making a statement about how Jesus’ familial allegiances are now changing and his new priority is to fulfil the will and responsibilities that God has laid out for him in his ministry. As the firstborn son of a now widowed mother, Jesus was culturally expected to take responsibility for his mother’s concerns seriously. In making this statement Jesus is saying that it is now God’s concerns and directions for his life that takes priority over all other social or familial expectations.
Finally, you raise a great question about the water of purification but I don’t think in doing this miracle Jesus is making a statement to the people that the wine is more valuable than the water of purification. Remember it is the master of ceremonies who makes the evaluation of the wine, not Jesus!
But the fact that Jesus didn’t just turn ANY water into wine is very significant. The jars of water for purification were a symbolic way of people coming to the banquet having been ritually “cleansed”. You could not partake of the banquet without this ritual cleansing. Such water was never for drinking, firstly because the water at that time would not have been very safe for human drinking, and, second, because the water was now itself considered “unclean” because people had symbolically transferred their uncleanness to it. But this idea of needing to be “cleansed” before being able to enjoy the wedding banquet is very important because, of course, these Jews believed that they would eventually enjoy fellowship with God at his eternal banquet at the end of time. But what sort of cleansing/purification would they need in order to legitimately participate in this ultimate banquet? Well, washing with the water of purification would been enough for this need, because the real cleansing that people needed wasn’t on the outside - it wasn’t simply the bacteria on their hands that need cleansed. The REAL cleansing needed was much deeper, it was a cleansing needed at the level of people’s character. The ugliness and “uncleanness” that manifests in all of our lives always begins on the INSIDE - in our hearts. Therefore, the real “purification” needed to sit at God’s banquet was going to need to be an INNER CLEANSING. God was going to need to provide a way to enable people to get their hearts purified and changed - only that could qualify people to enjoy God’s banquet. The water of purification could never get to the inside of people, it was never designed to. It was merely a ritual symbol that God has given to help people understand and express their need of deeper cleansing but the symbol itself wasn’t the reality it pointed to. In the same way, that me wearing a wedding ring doesn’t itself make me married and wear one without being actually married makes no sense, having a symbol of cleansing without there actually being a REAL and accessible means of cleansing available makes no sense. So where can that level of cleansing be found? Well, THAT is precisely the message behind why Jesus turned this purification water into “purification wine” - because in doing so people now had access to purification that can get to their INSIDE (they could drink the wine!).
In turning water into wine, Jesus isn’t simply doing a miracle, nor doing a miracle that makes a statement about wine vs. water or poverty vs. affluence. Rather, through the cultural, religious, and symbolic dynamics of this miraculous sign, Jesus is pointing people to a huge reality about himself: God has now provided the reality that the symbolic water purification ritual always pointed to. God has provided a means of getting cleansing/purification on the inside and the deepest level of every person so that can join his eternal banquet. And the one who has the supernatural power to provide people with that essential inner cleaning has come among them at that wedding. And his name is “Jesus”. When people taste the purifying “wine” that he offers, they discover that it is the best when, it satisfies them at very deepest level because deep down it is every person truly needs.
So the disciples not only saw the miraculous sign of water of purification become wine, they also recognised what that miraculous sign was pointing to - what it MEANT: Jesus has the power to provide a means of inner purification. Because of that, they believed in him. We aren’t told that everyone at the banquet saw the sign or understood what had actually happened (the comment between the master of ceremonies and the groom suggests they had no idea that a miracle had provided this new wine), but it is likely that one or two others beyond the disciples might have seen it. Yet John concludes by telling us that only the disciples “believed”. That suggests - as John’s gospel will go on to show - that simply because people see or enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ miracles doesn’t mean that they are always going to truly believe in him and follow him for the rest of their lives. Many didn’t. But John’s claim, and the disciples’ experience, was that when people truly followed the evidence, realise what it means for Jesus’ true identity and truly believe on him as the Son of God, they experience new “life” in his name. And if that is possible, its worth investigating further!
Thanks for your excellent question.