Thursday, December 5, 2013

Water Into Wine (part 4)

With his actions, Jesus has created a problematic situation for all involved.  This should not be overlooked.  There is a tendency to romanticize the words of Scripture, looking at them through goggles that distort the image that would have been easily seen and obvious to the first century author, reader, and hearer.  That distorted image can cause a distant or detached observer to hear the head steward going to the bridegroom and offering him a compliment in regards to his generosity and his unexpected grace, which has been put on display by lavishing the best wine upon his guests at the end of his party, clearly sparing no expense in so doing. 

From that distorted image, commentators often take it upon themselves to make an analogy about the grace of the Creator God as shown through Jesus, and perhaps even toss around a couple of ideas about the law as good wine, gifted by God, whereas the Gospel is an even better wine that has been saved for the end.  Consequently, Jesus is placed in the role of head steward, God the Father as presented as the obviously generous bridegroom, the servants that filled the purification jars (now obviously representing the strictures of the law---with an associated new wine versus old wineskin paradigm) representing the church, and the historical Jesus that speaks to the servants now functioning as more of a Holy Spirit figure, commanding the eager servants (the church). 

This popular mode of comprehension of the story of the wedding feast at Cana sets off something of a spiritualized, proof-texting binge in which this miracle is taken and folded in with other miracle reports in the Gospels as little more than evidences of the divinity of Jesus---as if the Gospels were merely meant to function in such a way.  In an even more entertaining venture, some attempt to use this event as Jesus’ own approbation of drinking alcoholic beverages, as if this occurrence was the Creator God’s way, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the writers of Scripture, of legitimating what some consider to be a questionable activity. 

Amazingly and in the same vein, some individuals with equally narrow fields of vision as those who actually want to use this event as a sanction for the drinking of wine, endeavor to employ the miracle at this wedding feast as a polemic against the drinking of alcohol.  As surprising and antithetical as that may sound, the claim is made with the argument running along the lines of “because the wine was new, it had not had time to ferment and was therefore non-alcoholic.  This therefore means that the newly made wine was nothing more than grape juice, which is Jesus’ (and therefore the Creator God’s) way of informing the world that since this ‘wine’ (though it’s really just grape juice) is clearly recognized as being better than what had gotten everybody drunk to that point, then this is what the Creator God would prefer His people imbibe from this point.”  Both positions, of course, are equally ridiculous.  Any attempts to draw inferences for Christian practice in the area of beverage consumption from this miraculous intervention by Jesus and its presentation by the author of John, is an exercise in woefully missing the point.

Now, all of this is not to say that the world does not have a lavishly generous and unexpectedly gracious Creator God.  It is not to say that implausible or inappropriate to draw inferences from the events in the life of Jesus that will assist believers in their spirit-animated journey of faith as functionaries in this world on behalf of their God’s kingdom.  It is to say, however, that if one is not attuned to the real world importance of the life of Jesus, and if these stories are not properly shared and heard from within their historical, cultural, and social contexts, with every effort made to first understand them on their own terms as they would be understood by those who experienced them first-hand, then it is highly likely that the observer is going to miss out on the true theological richness that lies ready at hand, as Jesus does go about revealing the Creator God.  The fact must not be overlooked that this is, first and foremost, a real-world event happening to and with real-world people with real-world customs and concerns.

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