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Miracle at Cana
By Rev. Fr. K. K. John
Water turned into wine, John 2:1-11, Thought for Kothine Sunday.

“Describe the miracle at Cana ,” the teacher asked her 3 rd grade pupils in a class contest. Children expressed how they understood it. Lord Byron, later famed romantic poet wrote, “ Water saw it’s Creator and blushed.” That startled the teacher and students. Needless to say, he got first prize. How a third grade boy could make such profound statement is still unfathomable. The whole theology of the sign, as John put it, is succinct in these few words. By this first of the seven signs he proved his deity, glory and disciples believed in him, v11.

On the first day of Great Lent the Holy Church introduces Jesus as the Creator of Universe. Faithful is on a spiritual pilgrimage with Jesus Christ knowing Him as Creator, Divine healer, Lord of Sabbath, Light of the world, Life-giver, Triumphant ruler and the one and only atoning sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. The pilgrimage culminates in the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, hope of eternal life. 

Water is the basic element (water, fire, air and earth) necessary for existence of universe and sustenance of life. Changing tasteless, colorless and odorless water into sparkling, fragrant, colorful and tasty wine is precursor of changing the dry bread made of wheat and barley and ordinary wine into His life-giving flesh and blood. Disciples who saw the virtual change of water into wine had no disbelief at all when Jesus said, “This is my body, eat it and this is my blood, drink it.” They ate and drank without an iota of doubt, not as mere symbols nor for mere memory but as real life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Tradition says; the bridegroom was Cleopas, cousin of Jesus. He was one of the two who on the way to Emmaus talked about the tragedy of Crucifixion. Jesus, after resurrection confronted them on the way, taught from the scriptures how Christ ought to suffer and die and then revealed to them, Lk 24:13-31. He became second bishop of Jerusalem.

Another tradition says that Simon the Zealot was the bridegroom.

It is significant that the first miracle took place in the context of marriage, the basic institution of life. The history of humanity and Holy Bible begins with a wedding in the Garden of Eden and ends with the wedding of Bride (Church) to the Lamb, Rev 19:7-9. By performing the first miracle in the context of a wedding Jesus extolled the sanctity of marriage in no uncertain terms. He blessed the union of one male and one female as marriage as it was in the beginning again so that we should keep marriage undefiled.

But unfortunately today the very concept of marriage is challenged and the sanctity imperiled. Man for his own destruction defiles it with dreadful definitions and immoral ways. Exigency of the hour is, those who believe in the existence and sanctity of human life ought to resist all satanic tendencies that defile the holy institution of marriage. Marriage has symbolic dimension, it is the mystical union of God with the Bride, New-Israel, Church. St Paul restated what Jesus declared that marriage was honorable and holy, Heb 13:4.

Jesus approved and blessed all good socio-economic customs then existed. What he criticized, relentlessly fought and purged out was the decadent and unworthy burdens the affluent hypocrites imposed on the ignorant and innocent in the society.

Best of all, is the presence of Jesus and His Mother at the wedding. A conspicuous point, which many people deliberately ignore, yet William Barclay mentions in his commentary that Mary had sufficient authority to order the servants to “Do whatever Jesus said.” This advise is not only to those servants for that particular moment but relevant for all Christians at all times. She bore Him and knew Him better than others and so it was most fitting and genuine also to instruct others to obey Him. The fact that the servants obeyed without doubts or questions what Jesus said could be attributed solely to the honor Mary enjoyed in the society. She was worthy model for all to emulate. Unfailing confidence Mary had in Jesus’ divinity, which till then none except Mary knew is amplified here.

But for the presence of Jesus and Mary, Mother of God, the situation would have been shameful due to shortage of wine. Mary’s presence averted a great humiliation the hosts would have otherwise suffered. They were invited guests and in present human terms they had no necessity to involve in the affairs of the hosts, that too without asking for it. But this is Mother of God, who is so humble and ever ready to incessantly supplicate to her Son for all those who are in need and especially who seek help.

It was not just a simple co-incident that the first miracle, which proved His Deity was at the instance of His mother but according to the divine plan set forth even before the foundation of the world. When it pleased God the Father, in the fullness of time, to send His only begotten Son to this world, He chose Mary, the meek and humble, to bear His Son to carry out His plan of redemption. So it was natural and most fitting that God the Father wanted the world to know that Mary, Theotokos , has a right to be heard in the presence of her son. In other words, God the Father exalted Mary. God the Son publicly honored her motherhood before His first miracle. Through Mary all mothers are blessed and honored.

Regarding the much discussed erroneous translation and interpretations of verse 4, I have discussed in detail in my article, “St Mary.” However, Barclay remarks, “It means, don’t worry; you don’t quite understand what is going on; leave things to me and I will settle them in my own way,” page 98. I would say Barclay’s remarks are out of tune, understatement and contradictory to actual happening. The actual meaning if were accurately translated from the original, “ Athso moli Ulek ”, would be, “What for you and me.”

Let us soberly ponder if there is Christ in our weddings and family life thereafter. The real reason for the unprecedented family breakup in these days is the absence of Jesus and His love in the spouses. Feasts/gatherings for birthday, anniversary, house blessing, betrothal, wedding, etc are considered dull and below status without liquor. Common complaint is, ‘duration of Service is too long and irksome’. Photo/video, dance, music and other celebrations accompanied by liquor are more important than the service. According to a study, bride and groom spend average 500 hrs for various arrangements to make marriage grand. Time spent on how to make marriage meaningful and worthwhile is less than negligible few hours! 

What we lost is spiritual dimension, which our forefathers held dear, to marriage. Even funeral gatherings are not exempt from show of opulence! Liquor has become an integral part of celebrations, not anymore limited to business and sales promotion meetings. Liquor plays important role in our most Carol, Perunal, Rasa, Pthuyogam, etc! Not long ago, a Malayalee girl brought up in USA attended a party. She observed how parents conducted in the gathering. She told, “These uncle-guys have no sense of proportion or decency when they see liquor. They gulp instead of sipping, no manners, no etiquette or limits whatsoever. They get drunk fast, forget the surroundings and outpour profanity. It is embarrassing to sit near these uncles in parties.” As the saying goes, ‘man first drinks alcohol then alcohol drinks man.’

There are more fallacy than true knowledge about wine and its use. There are many names and variety of liquors/wines. Generally, wine means grape essence. Fermentation begins right from the time juice is formed by crushing grapes. Liquor is distilled spirit, physicians in the middle ages originally developed for medicinal use. Most elixirs contain it. This is only an overview, not an expert opinion but mostly authentic for, I had been there, not a chronic but occasional drinker. Merciful Lord drew me out of it long before He chose me for His service, to be blameless in the service.

Liquor addicts, known as alcoholics for their uncontrolled passion for liquor, are familiar and often quote Bible to justify their addiction; miracle at Cana and St Paul’s advise to Timothy, “Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments,” 1Tim 5:23, mostly ignoring, ‘little.’ Hebrew word, yayin , means wine and sekar means hot drink and tiros means new wine (unfermented). But these can be used in bad sense also as in Ho 4:11, says Talmud. It is mentioned for both honor and shame. For Noah it was shame but for Melchizedek it was honor, Gen 14:18. Jesus compared Gospel to new wine, Mk 2:22. Wine is compared with Holy Spirit in Eph 5:18 but with fornication in Rev 17:2. Shortly, moderate use of wine is not malice in itself but excess is danger.

Being moderate is a good principle. Human body itself is conditioned to accommodate moderation. While both too cold and too hot are intolerable cool and warm are pleasant. Similarly being too extreme is not conducive to growth or harmony. Both extremes are harmful. Fanatics, fundamentalists and revolutionaries have wrought more afflictions than good to humanity. Equally so, too polite, neutral and silent people are useless having nothing to contribute for the progress of humanity. Nature itself attests; that which is essential for the survival becomes the very agent, which causes affliction and extinction when misused, example lifesaving drugs, water, fire, etc.

“The invention of wine is attributed to Noah, Gen 9:20” says JL McKenzie, page 928, Dictionary of the Bible. Surely, secular perspective might be different. Noah made wine and got drunk and he did not know his nakedness was exposed. Ham saw it and informed his brothers who took cloth, facing backward not to see and covered Noah’s nakedness, Gen 9:18-29. How Noah knew what happened when he was drunk? Ham is second son of Noah according to the order of names mentioned in Genesis 5:32 and 9:18. But verse 9:24 says Ham is youngest son of Noah who saw nakedness. This must be a memory error of compilers. Scholars are of the opinion that the story is mixing up of two traditions, v18 to 27 from ‘J’ tradition and verse 28-29 from ‘P’ tradition. Yet another discrepancy is that while blessing went directly to Shem and Japheth, sons, v26, 27 Ham was not cursed. Canaan, son of Ham got curse instead. 

Was Canaan the only son to Ham? If he had other sons, quite possibly he had, why only Canaan was cursed? Normally, one fails to find rationale in the whole episode. Scholars suggest that this portion was added to the Genesis story after Israelites subdued the land of Canaan and they believed that failure of Canaanites was the result of ancestral curse. Popular belief was that children inherit the curse from the sins of parents, Ex 20:5. What is more interesting is, Noah does not feel remorse about his own folly of getting drunk and vulnerability of Ham in seeing it. 

What was the actual sin, seeing the nakedness or not covering the nakedness or telling brothers? The answer seems evasive. Whole matter acquires different dimension in the light of Good Friday song, “Nohin na-dhan than nagnatha ka-nai-van shemum/ yaphethum pol raviyum mathiyum vadanam muudi ” Bovooso d’Mor Yacoob, 6th hour. Noah, the righteous, is portrayed as antitype of Christ hung naked on the cross. The covering that Shem and Japheth did without seeing father’s nakedness is equated to the darkness that befell the land in the sixth hour at the Crucifixion as willful act of Sun (nature) to cover Christ’s nakedness so that the world should not put to shame.

However, one cannot ignore but feel the shameful aftereffects of drunkenness. Lot is another notorious example how sin destroys morality and brings disgrace to generations, Gen 19:30-38. Lot did not know what happened because of the extreme state of drunkenness, v33-35. Seeing others’ nakedness was very shameful thing in that society. Hudaya canon of much later origin forbid to look at one’s own nakedness or show others one’s nakedness except to doctors, for medical reason. This is totally irrelevant in today’s perverse culture! Looking at the way attorneys and courts handle insanity defense in criminal cases committed under influence of liquor it seems as though intoxication has become acceptable standard of behavior, which approach itself induces crimes.

Wine was an important feast item of Jewish marriage. Wine has certain good benefits when used in moderation. It gladdens the heart, Ps 104:15. Wine makes merry, Eccl: 10:19. It has medicinal value, Lk 10:34, 1Tim 5:24. Bible declares that drunkenness is both a sin and a sickness and need be routed out. Sickness in Orthodox concept is effect of sin. That is why Jesus said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” and he became whole. When Jesus saw the man whom he healed at the side of Bethesda pond, cautioned not to sin lest worse things would happen. When the blind man reached Jesus the disciples asked, ‘whose sin is the reason for his blindness’ because the society then believed that sin be it of self or of parents caused sickness. Rationale behind confession and absolution is, remitting sins would heal sickness. Medical science considers it alcoholism a state of sickness.

Misuse, indiscrete use and overuse, is dangerous. Priests, Aaron and his sons, were forbidden to drink wine and liquor when they go to tabernacle (altar), lest they die, Lev 10:9. Some people, rarely priests also I heard, drink the night before and go to church with hangovers. This defiles the holy place and invites wrath of God. Think well before, how to go and conduct in Churches. Certain people go on drinking without distinction of day or night. “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink that continue until night, till wine inflame them,” Is 5:11. It shortens the life, Jer 35:7. “Do not keep company with anyone named brother who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner- not even to eat with such a person,” 1Co 5:11. It is mocker, brawler and diminishes wisdom, Pr 20:11. 

Drunkenness is an evil that should be purged from the land by stoning the drunkard to death, Deut 21:20-21. Jesus compared the drunkards to infidels because they forget their duties. They will be cut off from the faithful servants, Mat 24:49-51. Drunkenness is the work of the flesh and one who practices it will not inherit the Kingdom of God, Gal 5:19:21. It is termed the work of the darkness, Rom 13:12-13. St Peter says, lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties and abominable idolatries are flood of dissipation, speaking evil, and these will be judged, 1Pe 4:3-5. It makes men quarrel. Drunkards willfully bring in woe and sorrow, impure and insolent, tongue will turn boisterous, talking vile about everything, heart and mind disoriented, loose virtue and honor. Solomon warns, “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things,” Pr 23:31-33.

Alcohol is Arabic word, originally meant fine powder used to enhance beauty of eyelids. Wine/liquor came to be known as alcohol from 16th century. Alcohol is a chemical compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and known (C2H5OH) as ethyl alcohol. Manipulation of carbon atom is the factor deciding the variety. Alcohol content, as we know, varies from 5% to 53% by volume in liquors. Deadly chemicals are employed in various stages/degrees in the manufacture of wine/liquor to increase alcoholic content. There were no distilleries, as we now have, in Biblical times. Wine was produced by natural fermentation mostly of grapes and by manual distillation. Maximum alcohol content in a naturally brewed wine shall not exceed 6% by volume and shall be comparatively less harmful to health. I am not saying that other forms of strong liquors were unavailable.

The damaging effects of wine far outweigh its benefits when used in excess and the best advice is to completely avoid drinking any form of alcohol. As already hinted, the first effect of wine is placing the drunkard in a false state of mind to assume abilities he never has or to undertake risks he would otherwise hesitate. Alcohol rapidly enters into the blood system and weakens the nerve system. Debilitation of nerve system is what we call ‘high’ or intoxication. It alters the nature of blood, damaging essential enzymes. Alcohol damages the WBC resulting in loss of immune power exposing the host susceptible to various diseases. RBC carries oxygen to the cells. Its damage would greatly diminish oxygen transport. Insufficient oxygen in the cells disables insulin that leads to diabetics. Many complications associated with pulmonary system are other effects. Thickness of vein and artery walls dilates causing internal bleeding. Muscle looses control. Loss of vitamin in the blood causes loss of appetite, loss of vision, malfunction, ulcer and even cancer. Brain would cease normal function that leads to hallucination and wrongful decisions resulting in fatalities. Alcohol makes heart overwork. Continuous use of alcohol would result in blood pressure/hipper tension. Liver is the chief organ that cuts down digested food into useful enzymes for the growth and maintenance of cells. It takes 3 to 4 hours to cut down 1ounce alcohol and 18 hours to clear off the system. When excess quantity reaches, liver struggles very hard to keep pace with normal activities. Continuous intake of alcohol weakens the liver function, over production of bile juice, which enters the blood causing jaundice. Kidney is another vital organ that filters blood impurities and effluents. Alcohol damages kidney resulting in death. Despite sexual ravenous desire, impotency and diminished libido disappoints the alcoholic. This creates doubts, misunderstanding and quarrels with spouse. Spousal harmony is surely at stake. Pregnant and nursing mothers invite greater risk if they consume alcohol resulting in various health problems, abortion, stillbirth, physical and mental retardation of newborn. For this reason and many others, one estimate shows about 37% of US population suffer some kind of retardation. Most medications fail or abet malfunction when alcohol is present in the system. They will be prone to sensuousness and indulge in all sorts of sexual immorality and wickedness.

Financial loss and disrespect are other aspects. “Drunkard and glutton will come to poverty,” Pr 23:21. There are too many drunkards who lost jobs, sold wealth, became bankrupt, forced wife/children to prostitution, begged and slept in streets. Even the most talented and skillful turn lazy, inactive, irritable and violent. Having lost consciousness they are selfish, neglect family. Drunkard is under emotional stress, desperate and angry. Common symptoms are inferiority complex, false pride, self-justification, finding fault with others, doubting, alleging false, depression, feeling insecure, tendency to suicide, etc. Neither alcoholic nor their spouse nor children enjoy self-esteem. Others look down on them scornfully. Alcoholic’s children usually withdraw from active life for fear of contempt, and yet develop a tendency to become alcoholic, following the footsteps of the father. Drunkard brings dishonor to all his near and dear. Alcoholic is a social refuse. Drunkard loses relationship not only with people around but also with God. They lead wretched not spiritual life. Cruelty, recklessness, hatred, fear, anxiety etc will be their face mark.

By all standards alcohol is greatest enemy. Families lost harmony and many endured violence. There are too many divorces, orphans and widows because of the dastardly onslaught of alcoholism. It is more a death symbol than a status symbol. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,” Deut 30:19. May God help us to get rid of this monster by this Lent and choose life.

[ Rev. Fr. K. K. John is a priest of Indian Orthodox Church.]

Johnachen, Kothne, 2/22/04.

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