By Helen McNeil
Jesus' miracle of turning the water into wine, as seen by the Master of Ceremonies at the marriage feast.
If you think you're busy, let me tell you, nothing is more exhausting than being MC at a wedding. If you do a good job people tend to ask you to do the job for the whole fang dangly. One after the other. Then it occurred to me that I could make a living at this. Built another room above the stable and "MR FESTIVAL ... for all your Special Occasions" has been in business ever since. You could call it a Service Industry!
You'll find me down on the main street in Capernaeum. We go all over the district to put on these events. Every wedding is different, of course. Each has their highlights and potential and sometimes actual disasters. I'll never forget the time old Nahum's donkey got loose and upset all the tables! Wasn't my fault. Checking the parking wasn't on my list of things to do.
The one that stands out in my memory most was the Yacobs. The one that Jesus came to. 'Course, we didn't know the significance of who he was then. He was just a local boy starting out as a Rabbi. But he upset me to start with, 'cos when he turned up he had a whole bunch of other people with him. Of course, some of them were expected - a wedding involves the whole village and their relatives in all the neighbouring villages - but the others, talk about fringe! But hospitality is hospitality and there's no shying away from your obligations just because you've got a wedding in your family. But could they drink! Are there fish in Galilee?
I mentioned lists before. Without lists you can't do this job. Without lists you'd forget something. How many will there be in the Bridal Party, parents, bridesmaids etc? Then a guest list. Then you have to add in the number of people taking part in the service, the priests, the musicians and entertainers. Then there's the menu and a list of who's going to bring what. The wine list and who's got the specials on that week. There's job lists, who's on parking duty, who will direct people to their acccommodation and show them where to find the bathroom, who's going to wait at the tables and pour the wine. 'Course, a lot of them double up with different duties, but if you don't count, count and count again you don't buy in enough provisions. These do's can go on for the best part of a week, so everything has to be multiplied by the number of days, and even then somebody's aunt or uncle can outstay their welcome. Or the weather packs up and all the guests from out of town can't go home.
Weddings come at different prices and you charge according to the means of the happy couple. But it's a bit "Keeping up with the Jonahs" at the best of times. If the guests don't feel satisfied, that they've had enough to eat and drink, the newly-weds can be looked down on for the rest of their lives. It can cripple a family to be as hospitable as they'd like to be, so over the years I've thought up a few good schemes to make a little go a long way. Water down the soup and then thicken it again. Stoke people up with fancy breads and buns. That sort of thing. Best thing is to get plenty of plonk flowing. Once everyone is a bit merry they can feel happy about just about anything. Relaxes them. Even the bride and groom. 'Course, I can't afford to imbibe too much 'cos I have to see to everything. Even with all my experience I'm always tense. It's hardly an exact science. Dishes take longer to cook 'cos the dung doesn't burn as hot today for some reason. All that kind of thing keeps you on your toes, constantly re-adjusting things.
The day I'm talking about, the Bar-Josephs were all there - 'cept poor old Joseph himself, o'course. Been friends of the happy couple for years, Mary and all the kids. Jesus was there like I said before. With his new disciples. Jesus as a rabbi I could understand. He was always more religious that most kids. But Simon and Andrew, James and John as disciples! Well! That took a bit of getting used to. They weren't the least bit religious. Always kicking up larks. They were good fishermen alright - could swear like fishermen, too! They didn't seem any different. Didn't drink any less, I noticed. Mary was her usual self, trotting about being helpful, doing what she could in the kitchen now and then.
Anyway, it was time for another lot of toasts. We'd just about got down to blessing Uncle Elimelech's third camel by then, when a new lot of wine was broached. Boy it was good. It wasn't anything that I'd ordered. It was lovely. So mellow, it sent a warm glow right through me. I went over to the bridegroom. I leaned over and whispered, "Where've you been hiding this stuff?" "Thought it was what you ordered, old boy," he replied."
Then I realised that the wine merchant must have delivered the wrong stuff and I was horrified at the thumping great bill which would soon arrive. I raced out the back to stop them opening any more bottles - to find them ladling it out of the bathwater! My head was reeling. I don't know whether it was the wine or the shock but my legs gave way.
"What, in Heavens name, is going on", I spluttered. That had the servants in fits. "That's right" they said. "It's in Heaven's name. That's how it's done!" Couldn't get any sense out of them. Then Mary appeared and explained everything - slowly.
She'd been out the back helping when the servants noticed that the wine had run out. She knew as well as any the disgrace that would follow, so she'd called on Jesus to do something. He'd spotted the empty water pots in the bathroom used for ceremonial washing. "Fill them with water," he commanded. And when they'd done that he sent them with a jugful to me. It was a miracle. I looked. The jars were still full of water - the jug had wine in it. Every time they refilled the jugs, it was wine.
I don't know how I got through the rest of the wedding. I was in a daze. First there was the shock that I had forgotten to order enough wine. Me! Mr Festival himself! Losing my reputation was bad enough, but to ruin the reputation of the young couple! I would never have forgiven myself. I felt weak. I had let them down. Yet everyone said it was the best party since Uncle Ruben's funeral. And it was. But not because of me. It was because Jesus had saved me and the Yacobs from disgrace. Don't suppose Rabbis go into business. Think of it - think of the wine list! We'd make a killing! Nah, don't suppose he would.
© Helen McNeil, All rights reserved
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