The Real Jesus
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The Real Jesus

Chapter 9

Water into Wine

   Following the choosing of the disciples in John I, the scene immediately shifts in John 2 to a marriage celebration in Cana of Galilee, during which Jesus performed His first, and perhaps most famous and controversial miracle.
   Let us first read the biblical account in the book of John.
   Jesus' mother was there and Jesus and His disciples were called to the marriage. "And when they [Jesus and the disciples? Or all the guests?] wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
   "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou has kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (John 2:3-11).
   First of all, whose marriage was it? Mary seems to have a significant role in the feast since she feels responsible enough to ask Jesus to perform a miracle. Was the marriage that of a close friend, business associate or family member, or maybe one of Jesus' own brothers or sisters? It also seems as if Jesus Himself could have had some responsibility with regard to the food and the drink, because of the way in which His mother appealed to Him. It makes one wonder, too, whether they were establishing a home at Cana for a member of their own family.
   The marriage feast took place "the third day" after Jesus' baptism. Much can be learned from an examination of Jesus' miracle of turning the water into wine — about the personal habits of Jesus, about the knowledge of Mary, as well as about the prohibition policies of some of the teetotalers who claim to derive their teachings from the Bible.
   Quite a number of people from Nazareth and/or Bethsaida and Capernaum, as well as the town of Cana, must have attended.
   A wedding feast in those days was not unlike a Jewish wedding feast today. It probably featured many hundreds of invited guests, and there would have been feasting, a fair amount of drinking, and no doubt live musical entertainment with ample toasting, joyful camaraderie and good wishes on the part of family and friends for the bride and groom.
   John focuses on one particular occasion near the end of the festivities when the large number of guests had finally exhausted the supplies of wine. It is necessary to mention here a few points about the English word "wine" and its Greek derivation.
   The Greek word used in the inspired text is oinos, and it is used on at least two other occasions in the New Testament where the obvious meaning indicated the intoxicating effect of alcohol: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit," (Eph. 5:18), and "with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk" (Rev. 17:2, RSV).
   In both of these accounts it is obvious the Greek word oinos is referring to a beverage which, when taken to excess, can make one drunk. Perhaps it is useless to point out that there was no refrigeration; that "grape juice" — as some would have the drink that Jesus created be — was kept either in stone jars and/or goatskin bags and would ferment quite rapidly in any event. But "grapejuice" was not involved, nevertheless; it was wine.
   Think about the implications of the biblical account. As was stated, Jesus' mother was apparently such a close friend or relative that she was helping serve in some fashion, for she came to Jesus when she discovered the wine had been exhausted and said, "They have no wine."
   There happened to be six water pots of stone in the home which were used for purification rites or foot washing.
   Judging by the number of stone jars (six) and the number of firkins in each (two to three) — which were either nine and one-half or twelve and one-half gallons apiece — the most conservative estimate is that there had to be at least 120 gallons. Allowing approximately eight normal glasses of wine to a quart, four quarts to a gallon, that means that about 3,840 glasses of wine were available. So unless that marriage feast was the most drunken orgy in history (which it wasn't), there had to be a minimum of 500 people there to drink all that wine. And to have already exhausted a normally provided supply and still to claim that they were out, there were probably more than that. On the other hand, since the wine cellar of the individual giving the wedding was possibly depleted, this may have been replenishment without implying any specific quantity that was drunk before the wedding was over. Also, it was common for weddings to last for several days, even a full week.
   Jesus did not know everyone there, but there were guests and servants who would carry the memory of what He did for the rest of their lives and would talk of it to others. By the time they were elderly people, even if they never became converted and members of the church, they certainly must have told everybody else in their hearing about "the water becoming wine." They all probably told their grandchildren about that great miracle.
   Jesus must have known the master of the feast and the young couple, one of whom may have been a member of His family. He could well have been chatting with them and congratulating them, talking with the other people around them — about marriage, about mutual friends, about the political situation.
   When Mary came to Him, at least some of His disciples heard it — we know John did, since he wrote it down.
   Mary said, "They are out of wine." Why did Mary say that? What did she expect?
   Jesus retorted, "Woman, what in the world am I going to do with you? Don't you know it is not time for me to reveal who I am in public yet?" Jesus spoke rather chidingly, though with respect (the King James English makes it harsher than the reality).
   Mary was, nevertheless, quite assured that Jesus would respect and fulfill her request since she turned to the servants and immediately stated, "Whatsoever he says for you to do, do it."
   These surprising remarks show that Mary knew that Jesus could do something about the wine situation if He wanted to. But how could she know with such certainty? Wasn't this Jesus' first miracle?
   Mary's request to the servants, "Whatsoever he tells you to do — do it!" is as strong a statement of faith as any found in the New Testament; whether a Gentile officer asking for the healing of the servant, or the father of the lunatic begging for Christ's mercy.
   Mary's statement is similar to the statement of the man that had the demon-possessed son who said to Jesus, "I know you can heal him; all you have to do is just tell me that it is your will." It is also similar to the statement of the Roman officer who said, "You don't have to bother coming home to heal my servant but if you just tell me I will believe it. I understand an order because when I tell a man to go, he goes, and when I tell him to come, he comes."
   Mary's statement to Jesus, "Jesus, they are out of wine," conveys such absolute assurance of Jesus' ability to perform a miracle that it had to come from knowledge of Jesus' past experience.
   The miracle of turning the water into wine was indeed the first miracle of Jesus recorded in the Bible. But the strong inference is that it was not the first miracle of His life!
   Mary's certainty of success couldn't have come from guesswork. It couldn't have come from supposition. It couldn't have come only from what she thought He might have been able to do.
   Obviously Mary was confident. She had to have known that Jesus had miracle-working powers. No doubt during the course of the 30 years of Jesus' life, Mary had had at least a few occasions to witness such powers.
   From her earliest moments of training the young child, Mary was urgently intent upon explaining to Jesus again and again all the events that had occurred from the time of the appearance of the angel and his pronouncement to her; to her meeting with Elizabeth and the sudden leaping of the two babies in the wombs; to the muteness of John's father Zacharias, and the birth of John.
   During His young boyhood, how many possibilities for accident or injury were there? After all, His father was a contractor of some note; his profession demanded the kind of labor which may have involved everything from obtaining raw materials to site preparation, laying of foundations, hewing out cisterns, waterways and drainage ducts, to the actual erection of small cottages and larger homes and buildings.
   In such a trade, there is ample opportunity for accidents which could cause crippling injury or death.
   Had there been times when, just as a large stone might have toppled from a parapet upon one of Joseph's laborers, one of Jesus' own brothers or upon Jesus Himself, the young boy simply pointing at the stone said in a quiet but firm voice, "Stay still"?
   Had there been occasions when Joseph, Jude, Simon or perhaps one of the girls had come running to Mary, with a broken bone, dislocated arm, a smashed finger, or a deep cut? To presuppose that a family of at least seven children could survive all of those many years until the eldest son was age 30 without the usual run of household accidents, potential for accident and injury on the job, and the attack of disease, would be ridiculous.
   I don't think any family of seven kids in the building industry in that kind of environment could grow up without incurring some injuries.
   Seven kids?
   You could very easily imagine the scene if Jesus' brother Joses came running in one day when Jesus was 11 and Joses was only 6, holding his little arm with a strange bow in it and crying at the top of his lungs. Realizing that he had broken his arm, Jesus may have walked up to him and said, "Don't cry, Joses," and just reached out and healed it. This would have had to have been very private, just within the family. But His mother surely knew about it.
   One can imagine that there might have been times when a disfiguring scar might have marred one of the girls' faces or when one of the boys might have had a crushed instep, and Jesus healed them. Or Joseph could have been bent over a load of mortar that Jesus had just delivered to him as they were working on a wall. When Jesus was about to go up and take some to His brother James, He may have seen a bunch of bricks on the top of the parapet about to fall. Perhaps, as the bricks began to topple, Jesus commanded them to stop.
   Probably, in a quiet family environment, Jesus had prayed to His heavenly Father that close personal family members could be healed and they had followed His urgent admonitions that they tell no one else about it; keeping it very quiet, limited only to the immediate family.
   It is doubtful that any of Jesus' brothers would have taken His supernatural powers for granted; Jesus certainly would have warned them against "tempting God," taking unnecessary risks, exposing themselves to either danger or disease merely for the novelty of running to Jesus for a quick healing when necessary.
   Therefore, it may be safely assumed such miracles were few and far between, for even His own brothers refused to believe He was the Messiah later. But there had been sufficient experience for Mary to have such profound faith that even following Jesus' gentle rejoinder, she knew His love for her and respect for her request would override His reticence, and so she turned to the servants and told them, "Whatever He tells you to do, do it!"
   The turning of water into wine at Cana may have been His first "public miracle," but there is every reason to conclude that it was far from His first miracle!
   Much additional insight into Jesus' personality can be gleaned from the account of the miracle in Galilee.
   For one thing, stories were frequently spread about Jesus that He was a "glutton and a winebibber," which resulted in His chiding the Pharisees on one occasion that they were never satisfied, no matter what He did.
   He explained that they were like little kids who called the tune, but if you didn't dance to the precise tune they called, you seemed to be a misfit, and they were disappointed in you.
   He told them that John the Baptist had come neither eating nor drinking, and the religious leaders claimed that He was demon-possessed; but that He, Jesus, had come both eating and drinking (as He did frequently in expensive homes with leading officials, Roman officers, religious leaders, or at marriage feasts such as this one) yet was criticized for being both a glutton and a "winebibber" (meaning a "wino").
   The Bible, of course, clearly condemns drunkenness. It clearly condemns excesses in anything, which would include drinking too much water! There are sins of commission and sins of omission, and there are sins of excess.
   However, there is not one word in either the Old or the New Testament which forbids a human being to drink either strong drink (tirosh in the Hebrew, meaning liquor), or wine or beer, so long as it is taken in appropriate moderation on appropriate occasions, and is never abused.
   Jesus did enjoy a glass of wine from time to time.
   Do you?
   If you do, then you probably know that wine tends to aid not only in digestion, but in conversation and humor as well.
   There is no doubt whatever that Jesus, entering into animated and laughing conversation with other guests at that feast, also enjoyed the wine with them too.
   Judging from Hollywood's attempts to picture the creepy, long-haired effeminate they think is Jesus, one would imagine they would have Him sitting off in some dark corner staring rather balefully at an opposite wall with a sorrowful look on His face, saying absolutely nothing except the required biblical pronouncement according to the Gospel of John.
   What an insult it would have been for Jesus, who was head of the family business, whose younger brothers and mother were there together with His students, to sit mournfully in a corner with nothing but a level, steady, vacant gaze in His unblinking eyes! The leader of the feast, together with the bridegroom and the bride would all think the man was a little odd, and it would have cast a dark cloud over the festive occasion.
   But the real Jesus was simply not like Hollywood of today and theologians of yesteryear have pictured Him.
   He was an animated, healthy, robust, outgoing and effervescent personality.
   He could throw His head back and laugh to the very depth of His being at some humorous incident. He was totally well rounded in personality with that combination of sincere interest in others, deep empathy for their frailties and misunderstandings, combined with lively interest in their lives. Jesus was the kind of scintillating conversationalist who would have been an absolute joy to have at any party.

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Publication Date: 1977
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