Rethinking a Messiah’s Miracle

I’m struck how this miracle—Jesus’ first—and most of his good works, were not performed in churches or synagogues, but among the riffraff and ragamuffins; in homes, at parties, and among common folk outdoors. In fact, most people are surprised to hear that Jesus didn’t found a new religion or an institutional church,[1] nor expect his followers to set up a Christian version of the synagogue. His “church” he spoke of was known in Greek as ekklesia, which merely means a gathering of people under a common cause. The same word is used for a “mob” in the book of Acts.[2] It is not a human institution with professional salaried clergy, a clergy-laity distinction, meetings in buildings, church budgets, hierarchal leadership, and legalistic requirements, such as tithing; most of these were elements the later Roman church adopted and borrowed from pagan culture.[3] This doesn’t mean modern churches are bad (although they can become so and even oppressive when an environment of legalism is allowed to breed), just that they’re optional.[4]

Why dwell on an alternate scenario of the Master’s first miracle? It just might help us see past the religious lens most of us peer through when we imagine Jesus. He is just as likely to create fine microbrews as wine at a party (perhaps more so since most beer is significantly lower in alcohol content than wine). He was known to hang out with gluttons and whores,[5] approved of august celebrations, reminded us he didn’t come to destroy lives,[6] always remembered the poor, and read from a version of the Bible that celebrates human sexuality, rather graphically.

WWJB? We keep coming back to what he would not brew to answer that question. He would make fine wine, craft choice beer, nurture unselfish love, but never, I contend, brew a spirit of religion that cultivates fear, spiritual manipulation, and a legalistic approach to life.

[1] Gary Wills, What Jesus Meant, page 78.
[2] Wills, op. cit. page 78.
[3] Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, page xix.
[4] A Pew poll the week of August 20, 2010 found 18 percent of Americans think President Barak Obama is a Muslim, only one third correctly identify him as a Christian, and 43 percent have no idea what his religion is. The fact that Obama and his family haven’t joined a Christian church as of the time of the poll may influence these confused perspectives and highlights how Americans often put more stock in superficial religiosity than genuine Christian charity.
[5] Matthew 11:19 and 21:31
[6] Luke 9:56

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.