Wine was More Than Grape Juice in Jesus’ Day
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus was invited to a wedding at Cana of Galilee and he accepted the invitation (cf. John 2:1-11). He celebrated the event, turning water into wine, so the celebration of love and life could continue. Realizing that life consists of both painful and joyful moments and memories, Jesus wanted the wedding guests to enjoy themselves. In other words, he was interested in promoting, not stifling, joyful human experiences.
John’s Gospel does not say that Jesus turned water into grape juice. Even to this day, people usually do not “party” at weddings to grape juice. Jesus changed water into wine! By doing that, he was agreeing with the psalmist, when he affirmed the goodness of God’s creation, saying,
“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts” (Psalm 104:14-15, NIV).
According to the Jewish Scriptures, drinking wine moderately can elevate a person’s mood, gladdening the human heart. Even to this day, at the Passover celebration, the Jewish people bless God for the “fruit of the vine,” praying over the cup of wine,
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”1
Jesus Enjoyed Eating Good Food and Drinking Wine
As a Jew, Jesus enjoyed a good meal, with a glass of wine. But his actions were often misinterpreted by the religious leaders of his day. For example, Jesus said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Matthew 11:19a, NIV). His opponents often criticized him, thinking that he did not fast enough. They thought that he was not as “holy” as they. In short, they did not think that he was very “religious.”
Jesus was not a drunkard, but he did enjoy wine; nor was he a glutton, but he did enjoy good food. He found joy in creation and appreciation for the good things in life. In other words, he loved life and lived it to the fullest. Jesus knew that enjoyment of the good things in life was a gift from God. In the words of the Jewish sage,
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, NIV).
Jesus’ Spirituality was Not a Despising of Life
What does it mean to be spiritual? If it means being detached, life-denying and other-worldly, then Jesus himself was not spiritual. He loved life! Moreover, even God would not subscribe to a life-denying kind of spirituality! As C. S. Lewis wrote,
“There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”2
The material world itself is not evil; nor is life to be shunned. After all, Sacred Scripture says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31a, NIV). Jesus, then, understands that material things are good and meant to be appreciated. For him, spirituality has a lot to do with being in contact with God’s world, especially the “world” of human beings.
Jesus Must Have Enjoyed Laughter
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV), such as “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, NIV). Being a man, Jesus experienced the whole gamut of human emotions. He wept, for example, over the death of his friend, Lazarus (cf. John 11:35). But Scripture does not specifically say that Jesus laughed.
Did Jesus laugh? Why not? For instance, what human emotions probably accompanied the celebration of the wedding at Cana of Galilee? Undoubtedly, two of them would have been laughter and joy. Being fully human, Jesus must have shared in the distinctively human trait of laughter. I shall go even further and contend that since God created human beings in his own image and since one of the characteristics of human beings is laughter, then God also laughs, having a sense of humor.
Jesus Lived Life Intensely
Of course, Jesus was acutely aware of the tragedies and injustices in the world. But he also had a robust – strong and healthy – passion for living. A German phrase, Leben ist loben, “To live is to praise,” describes Jesus’ view of spirituality. He encountered God in the hic et nunc, the “here and now.” That was why Jesus did not teach his followers to pray, “Deliver us from this world.” Rather, he taught them to say, “Deliver us from evil.”
After giving an excerpt of the present article in my religious studies course, one of my students raised her hand and asked, “If Jesus loved life so much, then why did he choose to die by crucifixion at a young age?” The reason, as I explained to her, was that he was willing to sacrifice a lower value for the sake of a higher one. In other words, he was willing to die for a value greater than his own life, namely, his commitment to the salvation of human beings.
Thus, despite all the problems in the world; all the wars, famines, poverty and senseless killing of human beings; there is still beauty in life, if only human beings will choose to see it. Life is still good and worth living, if only people will believe it. Therefore, by his presence and example at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, Jesus teaches that the Creator wants his creatures, human beings, during their brief time on planet earth, to laugh and enjoy the good things in life.
- Cf. Matthew 26:29.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, N.Y.: Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952, Macmillian paperback edition 1960), p. 65.