The Life of the Party

Mary wrapped her blue cotton shawl over her shoulders. She knew the night air would later become chilly. She called to her son hammering on something in the workshop and set out for the synagogue, nestled down at the end of the ox cart-burrowed street. Jesus, hearing the invitation from his mother, quickly brushed off the sawdust from his tunic, grabbed his mantle and threw it over his head. He cinched a leather belt in place, quickly washed his face and hands and ran off to catch up to his mother who was halfway to the synagogue and the wedding celebration.

“Jesus, would you bring the fish that I bought from Peter?”

“Yes mother. Is there anything else?

“No, son.”

“I will return to the house and bring the fish. Go ahead with out me.”

“I’ll wait. With such a son, I will walk with you to greet our neighbors on this festive day.”

“Yes, mother, I’ll hurry.”

Jesus returned minutes later, running down the slope with three fish in his hand, the translucent fish tails flapping.

When he had caught up to Mary he said, “Father loved to go to weddings and to listen to the music.  He loved to be with his friends. Father was a quiet man until he came to a wedding. Then he would smile from ear to ear and sing all of the wedding songs. I remember his unstoppable smile. I could see that weddings had a special place in his heart.”

“Yes, I wish he were here.” Mary answered. “At the weddings he would look into my eyes and tell me that the twinkle in my eyes had reminded him of the stars on the night when you were born. Come let’s go in before I start crying and the stars begin flowing.”

Jesus and his mother entered the large thatched-roofed synagogue after removing their shoes. Inside they greeted their neighbors.  Dusty feet were washed and dried by the bride’s father, the host. Blessings were bestowed on the household and then Mary asked to see the newly weds.

The bride and groom sat outside in the middle of an expansive garden. They were seated at the center of a low cypress wood table near a Sycamore fig tree.  A large canopy shielded them from the hot afternoon sun. Jesus recognized the table as one of his workshop creations. Many of the guests had seated themselves around the table for the start of the wedding feast. Children scurried around the tables, giggling their pleasure at finding so many of their friends. The whole town had come to celebrate.

Their town, Khirbet Kana, was located nine miles northeast of Nazareth and about nine miles east of the Sea of Galilee. It was nestled against the southern hills of Upper Galilee. The Bet Netofa Valley, which lay between Cana and Nazareth, was situated about half way between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

As Mary began talking with the exuberant couple, Jesus walked over and sat down with the men discussing Cana’s political landscape within the Roman Empire. From their heated discussion he could hear that they were unwilling subjects of Rome. The local authority was King Herod and King Herod reported to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. They decried the fact that Roman rule limited the power of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court with its own legislative and judicial authority. They earnestly looked for the deliverer of their own people.  Jesus listened while stoking the fire with a branch.

The men sat around the glowing coals of a fire pit used for cooking. The three fish that Jesus had brought were placed on the fire pit’s heated stones. In the middle of the pit, a large pot held boiling lamb stew seasoned with salt, onions, garlic, cumin coriander, mint, dill and mustard. Dates and grapes, cheese, wine, vegetables, fruit and eggs were in plentiful supply. Common serving bowls were set on the feast table along with wild honey to sweeten the meal.

A little boy came over and stood next to Jesus. He watched his father talking from across from the fire pit.  His father, face snarled and shoulders slumped, talked angrily about the Roman taxes being placed on their town. The boy knew that his father became especially enraged when talking about King Herod. It was Herod who had placed Roman idols in the Holy Temple of Jehovah.  Today his father spoke in a hushed voice to those seated around the fire. He did not want to spoil the celebration.

Off to the side, several little girls, unaware of such important discussions whirled in their tunics to the rhythm of a tambourine, pretending that they, too, had just been married.  The sound of lyres, lutes, castanets, and cymbals permeated the multitude of voices.  The garden was lush with a wonderful sense of joy.

Wine poured freely. The bride’s mother made sure of it. But it wasn’t long before Mary noticed a worried look on Anna’s face. Mary pulled Anna into corner of the garden. She quietly spoke with Anna.

“Anna, my friend, what’s the matter?”

“Oh Mary, the wine is gone! I didn’t think that this would happen.  Unexpected guests have come from nearby towns. Your son’s followers have come too. What shall I do? We haven’t even toasted my daughter and her husband!”

Mary turned and looked for Jesus. Her eyes found his.  He was seated among the men where her husband Joseph usually sat when he was alive. She quickly came over to him and quietly put her hand on his shoulder. Jesus got up and followed her to the front of the synagogue.

“Son, there is no more wine.  What is left is old and almost undrinkable.”

“Good woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

Now, Mary knew in her heart that Jesus was sent from God. She felt that He had to do something in this family crisis. Mary invoked her pregnant hope. She looked over at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The servants gathered up six large clay jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, and took them to the cistern in the town’s courtyard. They filled the jars, each holding 30 gallons, with cistern water and then carted them back to the party.  Jesus had ordered the servants to fill the empty clay jars with water. When they had done so, Jesus told them to draw out some of it and take it to the head waiter. After tasting the wine from the jar,  not knowing what Jesus had done (though the servants who drew the water knew), the head waiter took the bridegroom aside and told the bridegroom that he had departed from the usual custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last. The bridegroom responded with open-mouthed amazement. He then proclaimed loudly, “Thanks be to Jehovah for this wonderful gift.”

When everyone had a cup of new wine before them, Jesus raised his cup in the direction of the bride and groom. Everyone quickly raised their cups as well. Seven blessings were recited before the bride and groom.  The final blessing:  Blessed art Thou LORD our God, king of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.  The joyful couple was toasted.  New wine again filled the cups and music returned to the garden. 

As the evening wore on Mary got up from her place at the table.   With the fire dying away the cool night air now chilled her. She pulled the cotton shawl snug over her shoulders and went to look for Jesus.  She found him at the edge of the garden looking towards the night sky.  The scene reminded her of God’s vision given to Abram:  “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.”  Without saying a word, Mary stood looking at Jesus from across the garden.  In the expanse of the indigo-black night infinite points of starlight blazed creating a sparkling diadem for her son.

(And so it was that Jesus’ first sign, recorded by me, was the changing of water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. I was with his mother and several of his disciples who saw this miracle. We began, that day, to believe in a Deliverer.)

-John, the beloved disciple of Jesus

***

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved