The wedding reception had been going for hours. The music was loud. It was crowded and there were more people than the organizers had expected. While everyone was having a wonderful time, something awful had happened.
The man in charge of the festivities pulled the groom aside and asked in hushed tones, “Where’s the extra booze stashed?”
“The last keg’s almost empty and I can’t find another one.”
Not quite the way you remember Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana? Then perhaps you need to reread it and pay attention to what’s really going on, instead of filtering it through the gauzy folds of anti-Jewish and anti-physical Gnostic myths we Christians have swallowed unthinkingly from the cups of ancient heretics. As recorded in John 2:1-11, Jesus’ mother comes to him with the news that the wedding host has run out of wine. So, eventually, after a bit of cajoling, Jesus makes more for them. And it’s the good stuff. So: there’s a party going on. They run out of booze. Jesus makes more for them.
So, a question. If this is how he began his public ministry, and if he spent so much time at parties that his critics accused him, as the King James translation puts it, of being a “winebibber” and a “friend of sinners” (he spent a lot of time in the company of collaborators and prostitutes at their parties), then why do so many imagine that God looks down on having fun? Or put it another way. Where do we get the idea that asceticism, giving up on pleasurable activities, embracing and even choosing suffering, will make us closer and more acceptable to God?
In order to avoid taking God’s name in vain, the Jewish people ultimately decided to stop pronouncing his name altogether. After all, if they NEVER said his name, then how could they ever break the commandment? It is a very human tendency to fall into this mode of thinking. Hense, with the so-called seven deadly sins, it is easy to go to an extreme. If drunkenness is bad, then let’s stop drinking alcohol altogether. Unfortunately, that idea doesn’t work out for gluttony, but we can fast frequently and eat “plain” food. Lust is bad, so we’ll become celebate. Sloth is bad, so I’ll only sleep three hours a night and feel guilty for even that. Greed is bad, so I’ll become poor. Arrogance is bad, so I’ll abuse myself and call myself names.
But what of Col 2:20-23:
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Do warnings on gluttony mean that we should not eat?
Do warnings on sloth mean that we should not sleep?
Do warnings on drunkenness mean that we should not drink?
Do warnings on adultery mean that we should not have sex?
Do warnings against greed mean that we must be poor?
Many Christians in history thought that the answer to all these questions was essentially affirmative. Even today, the attitude prevails that in order to be close to God, we must abandon all pleasure. The less comfortable and more deprived one’s existence, the closer one can be to God, because if one is comfortable, happy, well-fed, prosperous and living an average life, then one is obviously far from God and unspiritual.
We hold up those who get up at four to pray on their knees on hard stone floors, who went barefoot in the snow, who left their families and lives of ease to live in the muck of the Amazon to spread the gospel as the essence of what it means to be a true Christian, while those who stayed home and lived lives of ease are obviously falling short of the glory God would want for them.
And several scriptural passages are commonly used, and will doubtless come to mind, to help buttress that belief: “take up your cross…”
“leave father and mother…”
“naked, destitute, the world was not worthy of them…”
“get rich will have trouble…”
But there are problems:
1. grace: what does it mean we’re saved by grace if one will be more blessed and loved by God if one does certain things and refrains from other things?
2. what are we to do then with Jesus’ practice of party-hopping and not fasting, for which the religious establishment criticized him?
3. what are we to do with prosperous and comfortable biblical characters?
4. the actual context of the verses listed that seem to suggest misery is close to godliness?
I need to devote more thought to all of this…