A First for the Teacher
by Tim O'Hearn
After some of John’s followers had talked to the Teacher, he spoke to the crowd. The Teacher was not very complimentary. He said, “This generation is like a bunch of children who say to each other, we played for you but you did not dance. We told you to mourn, but you did not cry. We don’t want to play with you any more. John came like an Essene, very austere, eating little and drinking less, and they call him a devil. I came eating and drinking and they call me a drunkard and a glutton.”
That reminded me of an incident that happened shortly after I met the Teacher. He had, incidentally, seen John a couple of days before this incident. I understand they were related, but they were very different. John had been raised south of Jerusalem near the Salt Sea, and the teacher in the north near the Galil. You couldn’t miss John with his long hair and clothes made of skins, but the Teacher fit in with the crowd. But both had a passion for The Name, each in his own way.
But I digress. After he had been immersed by John, the Teacher had called a few people to follow him. I was privileged to be among those. A couple of days later, the Teacher went to a wedding.
Now John would never have been caught dead at a wedding feast. “It’s not my time,” he said. Over the next three years I would hear that phrase a lot.Fancy parties were not his style. And they probably would not have wanted him there, either. For sometimes a week people would have access to nearly unlimited food and drink. It was not unusual for people who had never even met the bride or the groom to be at one of these shindigs. That was how I got in. The Teacher was invited, and the invitation allowed him to bring some of his followers. Apparently he was already gaining a reputation as a teacher. So we came with him.
A lot of people looked forward to weddings. They were not necessarily merely pleased for the happy couple. Often such celebrations were the best meals people would eat all year. Meat was not common daily, but could be found in abundance here. The wine was also abundant. Music and gaiety were evident. I was glad to get to go. After all, even now there were rumors that the Teacher planned on traveling a lot, so good meals might be few and far between. (We were on the road a lot, but we never starved, the rumors notwithstanding.)
This party was held in a public building, Cana’s mikva. Apparently, though, this was a relatively poor family. Don’t get me wrong. They threw quite a bash. But it was not one of those weeklong affairs. After a while you could tell that it was getting harder for them to keep the tables stocked. The wine, never very strong in the first place, was clearly being watered down to make it stretch. Some people, not willing to embarrass their hosts, were already making excuses so they could leave and not be a burden.
I was standing with the Teacher at the still-stocked food table when his mother approached. This party was where I first met the Teacher’s mother. Like many women, she was publicly fairly quiet. But she could handle her children with just a look or word. She was, after all, mother to a fairly good-sized family.
Anyway, his mother took the Teacher aside, but not so far I couldn’t hear her. There was still food, but it seems the wine had run out. Not wanting her friends to be embarrassed by this, she was asking her son to do something. I figured she was asking him to go buy some more wine, so the host would not have to know that he was in danger of running out. I thought his answer was strange. “It’s not my time,” he said. What did time have to do with it? We were not planning on being anywhere specific. Was he just not ready to leave yet? Did he have to leave, and buying wine would delay his departure? Over the next three years I heard this phrase a lot, but this was the first time I heard it. I know now what his time was, and that he was saying he was not ready yet to reveal who he was. At the time, however, it just sounded strange.
Whatever I thought he had meant, his mother just ignored him. She was his mother, and she wanted him to do something, so he sure better do it. She called a couple of servants over and, loud enough so that the Teacher and some of the rest of us could hear, she told them, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now, the Law says to “honor your mother,” so what could the Teacher do? These servants were awaiting his instructions. To ignore them would be to bring dishonor on his mother. Besides, he was, after all, a dutiful son.
Near where we were standing were some stone reservoirs. These were sometimes filled with water for the mikva. The purification was supposed to be done in flowing water. Sometimes, though, the stream might not provide sufficient water for immersion. These containers held two to three amphorae, about twenty-four gallons, each, and could be used to supplement the flowing water to fill the mikva. The teacher told the servants to fill each of these stone basins with water. I don’t know where the servants were able to come up with that much water at a moment’s notice. I am amazed even now that they were able not to draw attention to themselves as they filled the containers. What I do know for sure was that it was a lot of water—clear, refreshing water—that they put into those containers. I know, because I was thirsty watching them, and sneaked a drink of it myself. Hey, who’s going to miss one cup of water out of 144 gallons? It was unquestionably water they were pouring in.
It took a little while to fill that much water, but eventually it was done. But what good did this accomplish? What we needed was wine, not water. There had been enough water in the wine as it stood, but he didn’t even throw in a few raisin cakes to make it taste like weakened wine. This was water, pure and simple.
The Teacher took one of the servants aside, dipped a cup into the water, and told the servant to take it to the head caterer. I would almost swear that I heard the teacher whisper to his mother, “Watch this.”
I was concerned for the Teacher’s sake. So I watched the servant make his way to the head caterer. As a side note, the actual title of this man translates to the “head of the three beds.” He was responsible for setting up the dining room, supervising the food and drink, and making sure everybody was properly served. Since a dining couch really consisted of three beds, two low couches on each side of a third a little higher to put the food on, this man was the boss of the three beds. But I digress again.
I watched as the head caterer took a drink from the cup. When his eyes widened I thought, the Teacher is in for it now. The head caterer immediately went to find the bridegroom, not always an easy task. I followed him, in case I had to defend my master. When he found the bridegroom he took him aside and had him take a drink from the cup.
He said to the bridegroom, “I know the custom is to serve the good wine first, and then after people are too drunk to know the difference they serve the inferior stuff.”
At that point I expected him to chide the bridegroom. I thought he might say something like, “but you, you get them drunk and then try to pass off plain water as wine. I have never known anyone with such gall.”
Instead, he said, “But you, you have saved the best for last. I have never tasted wine like this before.”
I hope nobody was watching me because my jaw must have been scraping the floor. How could this have been good wine? I know the head caterer did not get drunk on the job. I never took my eyes off of that cup. It had contained water. Only water. The only people who had handled the cup were the servant, who had sneaked a sip, the caterer, and the bridegroom.
As I walked back toward the teacher I felt a jab in my ribs. The servant who had carried the cup had elbowed me. When I looked at him, he gave me a wink. He knew it was wine, and he knew where it had come from. I was only now beginning to realize what had happened myself.
This was the first miracle, of many, that I saw the Teacher perform. I have talked to those people who were with him before I joined the group, and they say they never saw him perform one before. Since the Teacher left us I have heard some people, who have no way of knowing, claim that the Teacher had done miraculous little tricks when he was a child, just to entertain himself. I don’t believe it. I am convinced I was there to see the first miracle he performed.
Servants being servants, it was not long before the word got around. People who tasted the wine praised God for allowing such a miracle. And that is just as it should be.
Now, here we were months later, and the Teacher was saying that those who choseWhen the head caterer’s eyes widened, I thought, “The Teacher is in for it now.” not to believe in him were, perhaps, using this miracle against him. Maybe they were saying that if he could turn water into wine, what would keep him from doing so whenever he wanted to get a little drunk? Just because a while later he would feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, maybe they thought that we gorged ourselves every night. I can tell you for a fact that these things are not true. My belly can tell you that.
Still, once a rumor gets started, it is impossible to squelch it. Some of these people who opposed the Teacher were very good at spreading rumors. No wonder he told us to follow their teachings but not their actions. It was through this very rumormongering that they were able to have him executed. I will be nice and use that word instead of assassinated.
But it is good sometimes to remember that first miracle. What these accusers forget is that he did not perform it for himself. He did it because his mother asked him to. But I really think he did it because he did not want the bridegroom to be embarrassed. He always seemed to know how other people felt.
(Based on Luke 7:31-34 and John 2:1-11)