Drunken revels. The annoying party guest who’s had one (or more!) too many. The painful effects of alcoholism on the lives of individuals and families.
Surely these aren’t things that Jesus would support.
And yet he shows up at a wedding with more than the token hostess gift of a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. He supplies over 100 gallons of fine wine, to be given to people who’ve already had plenty to drink (John 2:1-12).
Huh? What gives?
After I taught a session on the miracle at Cana, the first sign Jesus performs in the gospel of John, there was a lingering question in some people’s minds. The text suggests that the wedding guests were already tipsy enough to be incapable of telling the difference between the good stuff and the cheap stuff. And Jesus brings even more alcohol to the party. Wouldn’t it have been better to sober people up with a bracing, Prohibition-worthy sermon on the evils of demon rum?
OK, I’m exaggerating. But there is a point here.
Jesus wasn’t bringing a keg to a frat party, where getting drunk is the point. He was celebrating a joyous occasion with a close-knit community of people, for whom free-flowing wine would have been a symbol of gladness. Wine can represent God’s blessing and bounty (e.g., Gen 27:28), and is even stipulated as an appropriate offering to God (e.g., Ex 29:40; Lev 23:13).
Jesus was certainly no ascetic. Indeed, as my wife recently reminded me, he seemed to have a bit of a reputation in the opposite direction. As he once said to the surrounding crowds, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34, NRSV). To his critics, he seemed to party too much, and with the wrong people.
The Bible, of course, knows of drunkenness and the sin that usually follows (e.g., Eph 5:18). But to put it bluntly, this is what wine and sex have in common: both are good gifts from God that can be misused and abused.
We’ll never know just how tipsy the guests at Cana were that night. I would guess that if the whole affair had already degenerated into a drunken brawl or some kind of Bacchanalian rite, Jesus would not have contributed to the chaos.
But more to the point, I think, is the question of whether we can wrap our minds around the God whom Jesus embodied. He was a sinless Savior who enjoyed table fellowship with the despised of society.
And he was not above bringing the choicest of wine to a wedding, to help the celebration along.