Spontaneously generated wine

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

The inexplicable nature by which grape juice turned into wine was at one time the subject of much speculation. In 15th century England leaven used in brewing was known as barm. In the Brewers Book of Norwich, written in the 15th century, the barm is referred to as goddisgoode because it was thought to be provided by Gods blessing. In the absence of understanding, God was invoked as the great provider. It seem inevitable that wine could be associated with miracles, given the mystery surrounding its existence.

The Wedding at Cana. Preti c1655

Perhap one of the most controversial miracles that Jesus performed was at a wedding in Cana in front of his disciples. It was claimed by John to be his first miracle:

There was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine had been given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.”
“You must not tell me what to do.” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”
Jesus’ mother then told the servants, “Do what ever he tells you.”
The Jews have rules about ritual washing, and for this purpose six stone water jars were there, each one large enough to hold about a hundred litres Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water.” They filled them to the brim, and then he told them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.” They took him the water, which now had turned to wine, and he tasted it. He did not know where the wine had come from but of course the servants who had drawn the water knew; so he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone else serves the good wine first, and after the guests have had plenty to drink, he serves the ordinary wine. But you have kept the best wine until now!”
[Jn. 2. 1-12]

This miracle seems to differ from others in that its main purpose is to demonstrate that he had a divine gift that distinguished him from ordinary people. The wedding guests have already had their fill of wine and yet desire more. Here is a miracle that does not address any spiritual issues other than to appease Jesus’ mother, who seems distressed at this lapse in hospitality. This story is only mentioned in the gospel according to John. The first three gospels in the New Testament by Matthew, Mark and Luke show many common elements and have verbal similarity they are thought to be the more accurate records of Jesus’ ministry and have been written about the same time. Collectively they are known as the Synoptics as they share a common perspective. The fourth gospel according to John tends to show Jesus as a messiah and therefore may exaggerate some of the miracles performed. The objective of this first miracle according to John was for Jesus to manifest his glory and for the disciples to believe in him:

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
[Jn. 2.11]

Through the disciples, the miracles were used to persuade others to follow Jesus’s teachings. The miraculous transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana is taken as a sign that Jesus sanctioned alcoholic beverages and their consumption was viewed as a socially accepted activity. Simultaneously,  Jesus acknowledged the sanctity of marriage. This miracle was seen by some as an indication that Jesus’s actions would enrich the lives of the community by benefiting their social needs. According to John the news of this miracle filtered through the local community. When Jesus later visited Cana he was greeted by a government official who thought his son was critically ill and dying:

Jesus said to him, “None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders.”
“Sir,” replied the official, “Come with me before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “Go your son will live!”
The man believed Jesus’ words and went. On his way home his servants met him with the news, “Your boy is going to live!”
[Jn. 4. 46-51]

This second miracle symbolised that not only could Jesus benefit the social needs of the community he could also protect them from harm. Jesus had the power to heal and to create. These two examples of miracles have a common denominator they both exploit social views of uncertainty. The first miracle exploits the views of uncertainty surrounding wine fermentation the second exploits the uncertainty of fear associated with disease and death. Two situations that, although are beyond the control of society, could be resolved by divine interaction.

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