Wine and wonder in the Bible


  • On The Beat
  • Sunday, 06 Sep 2020

A PILGRIMAGE to Jerusalem, the holy land of Christians, wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Church of Cana, more popularly known as the Wedding Church.

Couples, be it pilgrims or just tourists, often take the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in this holy place.

It’s no ordinary church because it was during a wedding there that Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine, as depicted in the Bible.

As stated in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother and his disciples were invited to the wedding when the party ran out of wine. Mother Mary then told Jesus of the situation.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used for ceremonial washing, each capable of holding 20 to 30 gallons of water. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars to the brim with water.

According to the Bible, turning water into wine was his first miracle.

In Matthew 26:26-29, where the scene of the Last Supper was recorded, the Bible said: “As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it.

“Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.

“And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it.”

This is the Bible as contained in the New Living Translation version.

The scene is also similarly recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Apart from the verses from the gospels and 1 Corinthians 11, we must relate that this was the Passover meal. And traditionally, the cup at the Passover meal contained wine during this Jewish festival.

Regardless of which version of the Bible one reads, or in whatever language, the accounts are consistently the same.

My wife and I were among Malaysian pilgrims who visited the Church of Cana, renewed our wedding vows and bought a bottle of wine there.

In fact, you don’t even need to go to Jerusalem to buy the wine anymore because it’s now sold online.

Jesus then and Jesus today are the same. If he had disapproved of wine, he wouldn’t have chosen to turn water into wine, especially as his first miracle.

The Bible is full of attributes on the goodness of wine – which is, essentially, just another form of liquor.

Christianity has never banned wine or liquor, though there are many references in the Bible frowning upon drunkenness and debauchery, which are regarded as sinful.

Of course, excessive drinking can lead to negative consequences for individuals, families and society. In fact, even without drinking excessively, drink-driving has become a deadly menace.

But consuming wine doesn’t necessarily mean getting intoxicated.

There is a difference.

Most churches in Malaysia use Ribena for Holy Communion, but it’s still a practice in many Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in other parts of the world to dip the bread in a chalice of wine during the Holy Communion ritual.

Some of these traditional churches even insist that sacramental wine be made naturally and derived and fermented only from grapes, sans extra ingredients. So that means 100% grape extract.

I’m speaking from experience, having visited such churches, I’m not reading from some source to fit my narrative.

Many Christians would echo my sentiments. One doesn’t need to be an expert in theology or schooled in comparative religions to vouch for this simple church practice.

There are even specific verses which encourage the drinking of wine, such as in 1 Timothy 5:23, where it says Paul advised Timothy to drink wine for medicinal purposes, and “stop drinking only water but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”.

Psalm 104:14-15 paints a picture of how God has provided various types of vegetation for man and beast. “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” God provided these necessities for man to cultivate into three types of food: wine, bread, and oil. This verse iterates the reason that God gave grapes: to make wine.

But no matter how tempting, excessive food or beverage consumption is bad. That’s common sense no one needs to reference from holy scriptures.

Likewise, if we drink too much of that sugar-saturated bubble tea drink, we’d be harming our health even though no religion has forbidden consuming it. The point is, we need to exercise moderation.

Noah – the prophet recognised by Christians and Muslims – owned a vineyard but his excessiveness with wine led him astray, which is recorded in the Bible.

In Genesis 9:20, it states that “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard” but the drink got the better of him.

Wine has always played a big role in churches. In fact, visitors of churches in the Mediterranean will know these priests, popularly known as monks, make the best wines. Some in the Lerins Abbey, on a small island near Cannes, continue producing them.

These monks have been making wine since the Middle Ages, living in the monastery founded in 405 AD by Saint Honorat.

In fact, in medieval Europe, Benedictine monks were the biggest wine producers.

I have to figure out now how I can visit the church and show them a newspaper article on a Malaysian MP and purported Bible expert claiming the holy book bans drinking liquor.

I’m sure they’ll tell me drinking a little wine is harmless, though one who has little knowledge of a religion but presumes to be an expert is dangerous.

Perpetuating myths is also what theologian-proclaiming politicians are doing by dispensing judgement, especially distorted ones.

But no one – especially Christians – should continue grousing over this or turning it into a political issue for use in elections because the message is, those who are unaware of their actions must be forgiven.

The Bible is full of verses, too, on the importance of forgiveness for those who wronged Christians.

Today is Sunday, a ceremoniously holy day. Surely there are more important issues and concerns in life to contend with. A good meal with the family and a glass of wine should see the day through nicely, though.

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Wong  Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

   

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