John 2 – The Wine and the Whipping

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Today’s PassageJohn 2

Now we’re into the narrative. There are two events in the second chapter of John, a wedding with a problem and a Passover that starts with a bang.

The problem at the wedding, of course, is that it runs out of wine. Jesus quietly solves the problem by having the servants fill some waterpots (normally intended for Jewish purification rituals) with water. By the time the headwaiter drinks a sample of the water, it has become wine: good wine. It would seem that Jesus manages to remain anonymous in this miracle, or at least leave the wedding without drawing attention to himself, because John is the only gospel to record it. I’m inclined to conclude that Matthew became a disciple later, and whatever sources Luke and Mark drew upon, none of them saw fit to mention the wedding and the wine. By this point, the only disciples identified so far have been Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael. We can assume they were at the wedding, but for all I know, they may never have realized Jesus was behind the top-shelf wine.

Incidentally, I just realized that John never mentions himself or his brother James by name in his gospel. If they had joined the disciples by this point or attended the wedding, I have no idea.

Before moving on to the Passover, I could talk about how John paints a pro-wine portrait of Jesus. But I don’t want to use the passage as an excuse to attack the “alcohol is sinful” position. Much as I enjoy a good wine and believe God wants us to be free to enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a personal decision to abstain from alcohol. And despite my moderate position, I think there would be less harm in a world where everyone’s a teetotaler than in a world where nobody is. But enough with the wine sidebar; let’s get to the Passover.

This is the first Passover to occur during Jesus’ ministry. And while he might have flown under the radar at the wedding in Cana, he makes a very public spectacle of upsetting the commerce at the Jerusalem temple. The synoptic gospels record Jesus cleansing the temple near the final Passover of his ministry, but John doesn’t record that temple cleansing. Instead, he records this one, at the start of his ministry, right before a distinct Passover probably three years before his final one. And this is a big deal right off the bat. This isn’t the sort of thing one does if one is trying to lay low, as Jesus did in the first half of Mark.

In all probability, John wrote his gospel after the other three. He knows what he’s doing here. And if such a monumental event occurred so early in Jesus’ ministry, and if in fact his final cleansing of the temple constituted a recapitulation of that event, then why did the synoptic authors not see fit to mention it? I don’t know. We can only speculate.

But here is John, informing us: Jesus purged the merchants from the temple shortly after being baptized and calling his disciples. And you can tell it’s a different time from the other time that Matthew and those guys talked about, because this time Jesus has a whip.

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