Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Making wine of water.

John 2.1-11

Yeah, it’s a provocative title. But read verse 10: The planner pointed out you serve the lesser wine once people were drunk, and this was the point Jesus pulled the water-to-wine miracle. Everyone was too drunk to appreciate it.

Or, really, to notice this miracle. Which may have been why Jesus did it when he did. Like he told his mom, “My time isn’t come yet”—he was still trying to fly under the radar. But she knew what he could do, and—having the same character as his Father and the Holy Spirit—our Lord saw no good reason to deny the request. Why not?

Anyway, I like to bring this fact up whenever Christians start to object to people drinking at all. I don’t drink myself, and like them I’m not a fan of drunkenness (particularly public drunkenness). But Jesus did provide wine for a party, and no small amount either. Barrels of it.

John 2.1-11 KWL
1 For three days there was a wedding-feast in Cana, in the Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there.
2 Jesus was invited to the wedding-feast, as were his students.
3 Since the wine was late in coming, Jesus’s mother told him, “They have no wine.”
4 Jesus told her, “What’s that to me and you, ma’am? My time isn’t come.”
5 His mother told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 There were six stone barrels placed there for Jewish ritual cleansing.
each containing about two or three buckets’ of liquid.
7 Jesus told them, “Fill the barrels with water,” and they filled them till full.
8 He told them, “Now ladle and bring some to the wedding-planner,” and they brought it to him.
9 As the wedding-planner tasted the water, it’d become wine.
He hadn’t known where it was. The servants, who ladled the water, had known.
The wedding-planner called the bridegroom 10 and told him, “Everyone first puts out the good wine.
Once people get drunk, the lesser wine. You kept the good wine till now?”
11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana in the Galilee.
He revealed his glory, and his students believed in him.

People also tend to miss the fact Jesus kinda told a joke: When his mom came to tell him about the wine shortage, his response was, “My time isn’t come.” Now, every other time this particular phrase comes up in the gospel of John, you’ll notice Jesus’s life was in danger:

John 7.30 KWL
So they were trying to arrest him.
But nobody laid a hand on him, for his time hadn’t yet come.
John 8.20 KWL
He spoke these messages in the treasury while teaching in temple.
Nobody arrested him: His time hadn’t yet come.

So what’s with the “time isn’t come” language? Jesus basically told his mom, “You want me to tell the guests there’s no wine? You realize what they’ll do to me? My time isn’t come!”

But most commentators interpret Jesus to mean he didn’t wanna do a miracle yet. Which is immediately contradicted by his performing a miracle—but they explain this away by pointing out what a good son he was. He didn’t wanna, but Mary knew he was an obedient boy, who’d act when called upon.

Wild wedding speculation.

Cana was the next town over from Nazareth; today, Kfar Kanna is a suburb of Nazareth. The towns were about 4 kilometers apart. Not close enough for them to share a synagogue—’cause the rabbis decreed you could only travel 2,000 cubits (1 km) from and to home on Sabbath. But close enough for them to share other resources, get to know one another, even intermarry.

Hence there’s a lot of speculation about this wedding: Who was getting married? What relation were they to Jesus? ’Cause why’s he on the hook for solving their wine problem? (A question, you’ll recall, Jesus himself asked—implying it really wasn’t his business.) Conspiracy theorists and some Latter-day Saints claim this was Jesus’s wedding; others claim his mother was taking a second husband. (And if so, it’s contradicted by Jesus putting his mother into his student’s care when he died. Jn 19.26-27)

Most likely they were related—for just about everybody in these towns were related in some fashion. Jews had big families. If one person from Nazareth married another from Cana, it’d make just about everyone in these two towns related to one another. Which’d make Mary one of the older female relatives, and Jesus one of the older male relatives—of course they’d be listened to. That’s all the authority he had. Or needed.

I’ve heard a lot of weirdness about how Jewish wedding ceremonies were performed. A lot of ’em come from Messianic Jews who want to highlight the coincidental similarities between Jewish wedding customs and the book of Revelation. I say “coincidental” because most of the customs they preach about, arose in the middle ages. Not the first century. Some date from the first century, like the bridegroom arriving in a procession to the wedding feast. Mt 25.1-12 The rest come stem from Christians holding a wedding ceremony, with vows and such; and Jews borrowing our traditions and making ’em Jewish… and Jewish Christians claiming, as they do, that the Jewish traditions all came first. Not all.

First-century middle eastern weddings were a weeklong festival. Lots of food, lots of dancing, lots of wine. The groom funded it, and either held it at his house, or at some relative’s house. Since he was too busy making merry, running the party fell to the wedding-planner, the arhitríklinos. (The word literally means “head of three couches”—the triclinium/“three couches” being what you’d find in a Roman dining room, ’cause Romans ate lying down.) Wedding-planner was a position of responsibility and honor, Si 32.1-2 NABRE kind of a best man.

Now, the wedding-planner was supposed to arrange the wedding-feast: The food, the wine, and otherwise keeping the guests happy. Seems he had fumbled his job in making sure the wine was in supply. So really he, not the groom, was the person Mary and Jesus were bailing out.

Borrowing the barrels.

As one entered the courtyard of one of the bigger Jewish homes, they’d see these ydríai/“water containers” near the entry. The word tends to be translated “jars” or “pots,” but these suckers were the size of trash cans, or large barrels. They were stone because you try making a barrel-size jar on a pottery wheel. They held two or three metritás/“meters,” which I translated “buckets,” and the KJV “firkins.” John doesn’t provide a precise measurement, but we can roughly figure they held 20 to 30 gallons. Say 25.

The barrels were provided for ritual washing. When a person entered the house, it was figured their hands were dirty—and they likely were. But Pharisees were more concerned with whether they were ritually dirty—if they touched someone or something ritually unclean. Like something a leper or bleeder had touched. Like someone who’d touched anything dead. They were trying to stay ritually clean as often as possible. (To a lesser degree, literally clean.)

So if you were a guest at a Pharisee’s house (assuming you’re not gentile, right?) before you touch anyone or anything, Pharisees would demand you baptize your hands: Draw up your sleeves, immerse your forearms into a barrel of water, bring them out, and shake them off. There. Clean.

Nope, this custom doesn’t come from the bible. It’s why Jesus tended to skip it. Lk 11.38 And it’s not wholly necessary. Ancient middle eastern custom was to keep your right hand clean at all times. The left hand was for touching anything icky.

Since the servants had to fill the barrels, they must’ve been empty: The guests were already in the house, and had already washed, and all their dust had necessitated the barrels being rinsed out, so this was likely done. Jesus ordered them all refilled. That’d be about 150 gallons, or 570 liters. And he turned all that to wine—about 425 bottles’ worth. Of the good stuff.

Some commentators claim Jews watered down their wine. True, they watered it down for daily use: Water wasn’t pure, and the only way to kill its bacteria was either to boil it, or mix in a little alcohol. But when it came time to party, Jews watered down nothing. And go through barrels just like Americans go through kegs.

I’m being conservative here: Six barrels was enough to keep the party going another two days. This way the wine could be two days late; this way the wedding-planner, and the groom, could save face. When God provides, he doesn’t skimp.

Jesus’s first sign.

Various Christians teach this was Jesus’s first miracle. I would point out Jesus’s word-of-knowledge bit with Nathanael is just as much a miracle. I would also point out if Jesus had never performed a miracle before, why on earth did Mary come to him in the first place?

Instead the gospel describes it as the first of his simeíon/“signs,” a public indicator God was with him, and empowered him. It wasn’t one of his ordinary miracles of impossibly knowing stuff, but a story people could spread around: “Jesus of Nazareth turned water into wine, man. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before.” It implied this was a person to pay attention to.

It got his students to trust they were following the right guy. If they weren’t certain before, despite John pointing him out, Jn 1.35-36 or Jesus “reading Nathanael’s mail,” Jn 1.47-48 pulling an Elijah-level miracle of making something out of nothing proved Jesus had God’s ear. Only later would it sink in Jesus is God. But first it needed to be established Jesus has God.

Y’know, too often we don’t bother to ask God for miracles till they’re life-and-death situations. (Or feel like one.) I’ve heard many testimonies where God came through for people in minor situations. For the most part, people don’t doubt he can do it, or does it. Yet they just don’t ask. It’s like they’re saving up their heavenly skee-ball tickets for when they want to collect a big prize.

Yet here, Jesus provides the wine for a wedding. Frivolous? Entirely. Yet Jesus came through for Mary, the wedding-planner, and the groom. So why don’t we expect God to come through for us unless we’re dealing with a “big deal”? He’s not a karmic bank: He’s not gonna turn us down for big miracles because we used up all his power on small ones.

Nope; God grants requests because we have faith. How’d we get the faith? We grew it by asking him for small stuff. He came through for us in little things; we trust he’ll come through for us in big things. Unless we never sought his help in little things, so he never did come through. We denied him the opportunity to be our provision in every way. Instead of growing faith, we grew a warped view of how God provides.

So call upon God in every circumstance. Even if it’s ’cause your party just ran out of beer. Hey, he’s done it before.