In John 2, the story of turning of the water into wine, there’s an interesting detail that I’ve never seen commented on at length before. John 2:6 describes the vats of water that Jesus turned into wine: “Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.”
These aren’t just random water-jars, they are holy water. Water for the rites of purification given in the Torah. Jesus however turns out to be the enemy of purity. Instead of water for ceremonial purification, he leaves us with wine—120-180 gallons of it!
There’s a deeply transgressive quality to Jesus’s actions. In the place of a system of boundaries and morals, clean and unclean, Jesus gives people enough wine to get all of Dublin hammered. Jesus’s actions are, in a sense, shockingly amoral. Or rather, they transgress and overcome the binary structures that define “religious” morality.
Jesus doesn’t come to offer a new way for the unclean to be made clean, the profane made sacred. He comes to obviate the whole notion and throw a party instead. And this is his glory (2:11).
In the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water into “the best wine” (2:10), the story ends interstingly. Verse 11 reads “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
What I find interesting is the mention of glory here. Obviously this is a huge theme in John’s gospel, and how John messes with the meaning of “glory” throughout the book is very important. And he’s messing with it here as well.
What is it about this sign that reveals Jesus’s glory? Certainly I don’t think its the mere fact that Jesus is the worlds best alchemist. What makes this glorious is not simply that Jesus can change one substance into another, it is that Jesus’s power takes the form of generating festivity, conviviality, partying. Jesus’s glory is revealed because he makes this wedding party off the hook.
Jesus’s glory is manifest in celebration, in festivity, in, well, drinking.
There is a great article in Slate Magazine about the odd American fixation on searching for health benefits in wine drinking. A couple snippets from the article:
Personally, I’m thrilled to learn that red wine could help me avoid cancer, outlast opponents on the tennis court, survive a nuclear attack, and lead a long, lucid, and Viagra-free life. However, a little caution is in order. Most of the testing with resveratrol has been done on mice, and they have been given ungodly amounts of the stuff. As the New York Times pointed out in a 2006 article, the mice in one experiment were injected with 24 milligrams of resveratrol per kilogram of body weight; red wine contains around 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per liter, so to get the equivalent dose, a 150-pound person would need to drink 750-1,500 bottles of wine a day. I weigh 195 pounds and can finish a bottle of Beaujolais and feel no different than if I’d had a bottle of Gatorade, but tossing back 1,100 liters of wine in a 24-hour period? Probably not.
It is great that science is uncovering so many possible ancillary benefits to merlot and pinot noir, and I hope that resveratrol is indeed the cure-all that mankind has been hoping for. But if and when a proven resveratrol tablet hits the market, I won’t be liquidating my cellar, nor do I intend to load up on any of the resveratrol-enhanced wines that are apparently coming our way (unless, of course, they happen to be seriously good). Likewise, if it turns out the mice have been screwing with us and that red wine carries none of these magical side effects, there will still be a bottle on my dinner table every night. Wine is a habit that requires no rationale other than the pursuit of enjoyment.
Cheers to that! The author here is at one with the prophetic images of wine in the Bible and in the life of Jesus in which wine serves no other purpuse than spontaneous and liberating joy. Indeed the constant quest to search for health benefits in wine is a rather disgustingly modern instumentalization of what the Bible, and nearly all of historic wine-drinking cultures simply view as a celebratory and delicious part of life. Rather than grasp after ways to justify wine as healthy, lets just enjoy if for the awesome, tasty thing that is.