Wedding Banquets

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

February 22, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Wedding banquets in first century Israel were budget busters.  It is no surprise that the family that invited Jesus and his Disciples ran out of wine, although it was most embarrassing.  These events did not actually celebrate the marriage, which was strictly a legal transaction between the families.  This likely took place as much as a year before the wedding supper which celebrated the consummation of the marriage and the beginning of co-habitation.  The intervening period was a time for the groom to prepare a home for his bride and for the family to save up enough money for the big party.  On the evening of the wedding banquet the groom and his attendants would call on the home of the bride and escort her to her new home.

The party sometimes lasted for as long as a week.  The bride and groom were allowed their privacy, while the families celebrated and got to know each other.  This meant that food and wine had to be provided for a considerable gathering.

The six stone jars give evidence that the party is held at a prepared setting, likely a large tent.  It was a Jewish occasion.  The stone jars were provided for purifying the hands before eating so that the food consumed was guaranteed kosher.  Stone did not absorb ceremonial impurity as did clay.  These jars were cut from a single block of limestone and were two to two and a half feet tall.  Filled with water they weighed some 300 pounds and held twenty to thirty gallons.  They would not have been available in a home for the houses were generally quite small.

These stone jars needed to be constantly filled from some nearby water source.  When Jesus decided to help he ordered them all filled to the brim.

We do not know when Jesus and his men arrived at the party or when the wine ran out.  It was likely the last day, since the host commented that the good wine had been saved until last.  We are also not told how many people were aware of the miracle.  Jesus’ Disciple knew.  The text reads, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his Disciples believed in him.”

If it was the last day of the feast the bride and groom had come out from their seclusion and were mingling with the crowd.  Congratulations were being offered and gratitude given for coming to their big party.   It would have been a sham for the family to have run out of wine at such a time.  Mary was sensitive to this situation.  There was likely a family connection.  James and John may have been there along with Phillip, Andrew, Peter and Nathaniel.  They were cousins of Jesus on Mary’s side of the family.  The miracle however was kept quiet.  The water made wine was taken to the host.  He did not know its source.  Jesus’ public ministry had not yet been initiated.

If the newly filled jars were all changed to wine there would be at least a hundred and twenty gallons of wine available.  Some of course would have been consumed as the guests enjoyed their final meal and departed for home.  The remainder would have been a nice gift for the newlyweds.  Jesus is signaling his followers that something new is on the horizon.  A new covenant is being cut for Israel and the world.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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