The first miracle of Jesus was changing water to wine at a wedding in Cana at the recommendation of his mother Mary (Jn 2:1-11). Was Jesus and Mary promoting the consumption of wine?
There are different shades of meaning for wine in the Bible:
1. JOY AND CELEBRATION
Wine was an integral part of the Jewish meal. It represents joy, celebration, and divine blessing. Wine mixed with water is a good drink. “Just as it is unpleasant to drink wine by itself or just water, whereas wine mixed with water makes a delightful and pleasing drink” (2 Macc 15:39). Wine does not always mean fermented wine in the Bible. It also meant unfermented grape juice (Isa 65:8). Children use grape juice for the Passover meal.
2. HEALTHY DRINK
During the Biblical times, there was no purification of water. Since sickness could happen because of contaminated water consumption, especially during the plagues, the authorities asked people to drink water mixed with wine. Paul advised Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5:23).
According to the modern scientific studies, red wine is small quantity is beneficial for health because it provides good gut bacteria. “Red wine is a rich source of digestive probiotics, including bifidobacterium, bacteroides, prevotella, and enterococcus. These wines promote a healthy digestive system by activating the enzymes required to digest fats and proteins while stimulating the production of certain vitamins” (https://www.tnhealth.org/metabolism/does-red-wine-help-digestion).
3. DRUNKEDNESS IS A SIN
Drinking excessive wine is injurious to health. According to Paul, to get drunk was a disgrace. “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). Because of the moral degradation and damages for oneself and others, Paul included drunkards as one among the groups who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:10).
Noah consumed too much wine that ended in the curse of his grandson, Canaan. “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine, became drunk, and lay naked inside his tent” (Gen 9: 20-21). “Wine is arrogant, strong drink is riotous; none who are intoxicated by them are wise” (Prov 20:1).
4. GOD’S BLESSING
Abundance of wine was a sign of prosperity and God’s blessing. Isaac blessed Jacob, saying, “May God give to you of the dew of the heavens and of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine” (Gen 27:28). God’s blessing on those who obey God while in the promised land included wine (Deut 7:13). “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with first fruits of all your produce; Then will your barns be filled with plenty, with new wine your vats will overflow” (Prov 3:9-10).
When the twelve scouts of Israelites returned to the wilderness of Paran from Canaan after reconnoitering the land, “they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes on it, which two of them carried on a pole” (Num 13:23). That was to prove the prosperity of the land of Canaan. Amos predicted a Messianic age when there will be excessive wine. “The mountains shall drip with the juice of grapes, and all the hills shall run with it. I will restore my people Israel, they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities, Plant vineyards and drink the wine, set out gardens and eat the fruits” (Am 9:13-14).
5. PART OF OFFERINGS TO GOD
When Abram met Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, the items Melchizedek brought were bread and wine (Gen 14:17-18). Wine was part of offering items to God in the Temple. Every day, the Israelites offered a lamb each in the morning and at the evening twilight. Along with that, they offered grain, olive oil, and “a fourth of a hin of wine” offering (Ex 29:39-41; Lev 23:13; Num 15:4-7).
6. PART OF MEDICAL TREATMENT
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the first aid involved wine. “He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him” (Lk 10:34). Hence, wine was traditionally used as a part of first aid to prevent infection.
7. USED FOR PASSOVER MEAL
Jesus used wine during the Passover meal as is clear from the Last Supper. The Pharisees and Scribes compared Jesus with John the Baptist and falsely accused him: “For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Lk 7:33-34).
8. SUFFERINGS OF LIFE
When the sons of Zebedee, along with their mother, asked for higher positions in the Kingdom of Jesus, his reply was, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Mt 20:22). Here, Jesus meant the hardships they had to take up for his kingdom. During the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours be done.’ And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him” (Lk 22:42-43). Here the cup was his passion and crucifixion.
8. REPRESENTED THE HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus compared the new Kingdom guided by the Holy Spirit to a new wine. “People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved” (Mt 9:17). On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples behaved differently that the people gathered around them thought they were drunk. Peter clarified them, saying, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:15-17).
Mary and Jesus were aware of the Biblical warnings on over-drinking of wine. However, they knew the spiritual implications of abundant wine. So, at the wedding at Cana, Jesus’ intention was not to promote alcohol consumption. Mary’s concern was to save the reputation of the host for lack of popular health drink at the banquet. Jesus manifested his glory of serving the best and abundant wine. The disciples were amazed and believed in Jesus. “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (Jn 2:11).
We can use or misuse God’s creations and his provisions for good or bad. Jesus used wine in moderation for Passover meal and established the Holy Eucharist using wine to transform it to his blood. Let us assure self-control in our lives and desire for spiritual joy be keeping in communion with the Holy Spirit that we have received at our baptism.