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Jesus the Winemaker
by Meghan Sullivan

Last month, I taught my seventh grade religion students about the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony. “What do you know about the Wedding at Cana?” I asked them. “Jesus turned water into wine,” one student said. “It’s where Jesus performed His first miracle,” another chimed in. A third student impressively added that Jesus’ wine had surprised the chief steward because our Lord’s wine tasted better than the wine served at the beginning of the wedding feast. I smiled and said, “Yes, Jesus was a winemaker.” I then went on to explain that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Matrimony at the Wedding at Cana. By choosing a wedding feast as the setting for His first miracle, He showed that marriage is important and sacred.

Long after I had finished my lesson and my students had gone home, I found myself replaying the class discussion in my head. The thought that Jesus was a winemaker intrigued me. “What,” I wondered, “did the early Church Fathers think about this?”

My treasure hunt into the works of the early Church Fathers and into the Bible helped me reach the conclusion that winemaking runs in Jesus’ family. The genealogy of Jesus’ earthly mother Mary and stepfather Joseph traces back to Noah and beyond. Noah himself was a winemaker. Genesis tells us, “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk” (Genesis 9:20-21, NRSV). As St. Jerome points out, it is likely that Noah became drunk because he was not familiar with the potency of the wine.1 Nevertheless, it is clear from this passage that Noah, like Jesus, made wine.

Jesus’ spiritual genealogy also contains winemaking. As our Creator, God the Father is the Winemaker and the Viticulturalist. In their writings on the Wedding at Cana, St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom express no surprise at the idea of Jesus turning water into wine. The early Church Fathers knew that Jesus’ Father is responsible for wine and for all its ingredients, and Jesus and the Father are united together with the Holy Spirit as one Trinitarian God. The early Church Fathers recognized, in God’s utterance, “Let there be light,” the presence of the Word of God, Jesus. When Jesus creates wine out of water at the Wedding at Cana, then, He is merely continuing His Father’s creative work.

St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom both apply Jesus’ prowess at crafting wine to His ability to “craft” human beings. Augustine writes, “We, too, were water and he made us wine, he made us wise.”2 Just as a winemaker sometimes seeks to shape a wine so that it will improve with age, Jesus helps us improve in wisdom. Similarly, St. John Chrysostom explains that Jesus helps change the quality of human wills, just as winemakers produce wines so that they will improve in quality. “Jesus made of water wine,” Chrysostom writes, “and both then and now He ceases not to change our weak and unstable wills…let us bring those of such disposition to the Lord, that He may change their will to the quality of wine.” 3

1. See Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990).
2. Augustine, Tractate on John VIII.
3. Chrysostom, Homily on John XXII.

 


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