Premier cru – a wine out of this world

(from the September edition of the parish magazine)

The story of the Wedding in Cana of Galilee, so well described in the last edition of this magazine, may perhaps have started some of us thinking again about this intriguing and apparently miraculous story; wondering whether it was indeed fact or fiction. So perhaps it bears further analysis.

The story reads as a descriptive historical eyewitness account setting out the time and place, those present and, significantly, the changing of water into wine.

It begins with the words “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee”. The timing probably refers not to the day of the week, which would have no significance, but to the fact that Jesus and the few disciples he had gathered around him (Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael) had just travelled from Bethany in Jordon, a three day journey. Probably others also joined him, including John. So perhaps this unexpected number had not been catered for and might explain why the wine ran out. Although John is not mentioned as being present there can be little doubt that he witnessed the wedding and was the author of the account. Some may be concerned that something as significant as Christ’s first miracle should only appear in his Gospel and none of the others. One simple explanation could be that, of the Gospel writers, only John witnessed the event.

The exact location of Cana is not known for certain, but was probably only a few miles from Nazareth. So the families of Jesus and those hosting the wedding would have been near neighbours and well known to each other. The account in St John’s Gospel suggests that Mary was a principal guest and that “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited”. This would explain the important and almost proprietorial role of Mary who, when the wine ran out, took over and persuaded Jesus to do something about it. It was He who instructed the servants what to do and to fill the six stone water jars to the brim, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. When the contents were dispensed all present were convinced that what they drank was wine and much superior to what had previously been served. It was not only the very best but abundant; approximately some 150 gallons!

So, how do we interpret this remarkable story? Water and wine are chemically entirely different and the one cannot instantly be changed into the other. Many scientists might therefore dismiss the story as beyond belief. Others might argue that Jesus, having Divine power, could readily change water into wine to convince his disciples whom He claimed to be. Perhaps the real question we need to ask ourselves is: does the story as told by St John read as a truthful historical account or some complete fabrication?  If one cannot accept the latter then one has to conclude that the event was indeed miraculous.

Another way of looking at this story is to consider it as an allegory. Every story tells a tale and a truth that may be more profound and significant than the story itself. One of the greatest and best loved stories ever told was that of The Good Samaritan. The message is so strong that we don’t have to stop and ask if there was in fact ever a real person travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was set upon by thieves. It is irrelevant. The power is in the story.

Perhaps the message of the story of the wedding in Cana lies in the wine created by Jesus. We are surely more than mere flesh and blood, and also have a spirit or soul, which needs feeding as much as our bodies. What Christ has to give is something far more significant and satisfying than anything Waitrose has to offer! And it is abundant and free!                                                                                                                                         W G E