On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
I grew up thinking that drinking alcoholic beverages was a sin. This is not an uncommon way of thinking in baptist churches and other more fundamentalist or traditional evangelical congregations, and not just in the southeastern United States (my parents grew up in an independent baptist church in the Philadelphia area). I never questioned this belief until I got older and read and studied the Bible for myself. Passages like the one above played a prominent role in changing my way of thinking about drinking.
For those of you who don’t know, weddings in first century Galilee were nothing like weddings today. I’ve been to some really fun wedding receptions that were essentially big parties full of dancing, eating, drinking, and laughter. I’ve been to some wedding receptions that lasted an hour where we ate appetizers and cake and drank non-alcoholic punch. But a wedding like the one mentioned at the beginning of the second chapter of John probably lasted an entire week. It was a huge party, and as we read in the above passage, it involved drinking wine, apparently to the point where people were “drunk”.
No where in this passage do I read where Jesus condemned those who drank too much. In fact, he seemed to encourage the group to drink more since he turned at least 120 gallons of water into wine (6 jars times 20 gallons each equals 120 gallons). I have also heard people try to explain that wine was really more like grape juice back then, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting drunk on grape juice, and this passage clearly indicates that the people are drinking enough wine to not be able to differentiate between good wine and bad wine. (If you have ever had wine before, you’ll understand this).
Now, I’m not saying that you are wrong to not drink alcohol. If God has convicted you to not drink, that is fine. It’s between you and God. In fact, there are places in the Bible where people abstained from alcohol in order to purify themselves for the Lord’s service (read through the Old Testament law sometime, or do a search on “Nazirite”). I do, however, have a problem with people who cast judgement on others for drinking, calling it a “sin”. I’ve never seen scriptural evidence to say that having something to drink is condemned by God.
One other thing that stands out to me here is that Jesus didn’t give an altar call during this party. He didn’t use the miracle as a chance to preach a sermon and win souls (although verse 11 indicates that his disciples believed in him, so their faith grew as a result of the miracle.) I personally think that Jesus was ok with enjoying a party without strings attached. Many churches believe that in order to have a successful party or feast, you have to include a brief sermon outlining the path to salvation, have an altar call, and “win souls for Christ.” I believe that God loves people because God is love. I don’t think God’s love is conditional, that you have to walk down an aisle, say a prayer, and fill out a card to receive his love. God loves everyone. God loves it when people find joy in this life. To quote Rob Bell (again), “God is not our mother-in-law coming to see whether her wedding present china has been chipped. He is a funny old uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.”
So if you have ever caught yourself judging others for drinking alcohol, lighten up! After all, Jesus was ok with it, right?