Taste the Wine
Jackson Snyder, April 1994

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PREVIEW That We May Perfectly Love Thee: Preparing Our Hearts for the Eucharist   Robert Benson - a fine devotional

                     

Once upon a time I was invited to a wine tasting.  A wine tasting is one of those rather formal affairs in which various vintners invite the public to sample their wares for a nominal fee.  The wine tasting I attended was at a country club, and semi-formal dress was required.  There were several tables set with white linen, at each table was a waiter, and on each table was four or five bottles of wine, and some cheese and crackers.  Each bottle of wine was labeled with its name, the year it was bottled, and the retail price.  The prices of the wines ranged from about $2.50 to over $125 per bottle. 

            The procedure was to go from table to table, sniffing then tasting a little of each wine, and making a personal judgment as to which was the best liked.  The wines that were supposed to be the best occupied tables with lesser wines, so that the taster would be able to more easily compare the better and the lesser, and hopefully would then buy the better, which was, of course, more expensive.  But someone who had previously been to a similar "tasting" told me that the fact is, the more wines you tasted, the better they begin to taste, regardless of their value.  Therefore, if the taster wanted to get the full impact of the $125 wine, the best policy would be to taste it first, before the head became boggled with the intoxicating qualities of the lesser brands.

            I began with the most expensive and valuable wine.  It was called Moet and Chandon.  As I swished the wine around in its glass, sniffed its bouquet, then gulped it down, I briefly relived for myself the story of Jesus on the cross, when they touched his mouth with the sponge containing the bitter vinegar.  For the Moet and Chandon was as sour as gall, yet I watched others drinking it with utter devotion.

            It wasn't long before I was able to make my choice of the wine I considered to be the best tasting of all.  It was a brand called Gallo White Zinfandel.  Its retail price was about $3 per bottle, and it can be found in any supermarket.  It was a little sweet and very fruity, and it tasted great.

            Through this experience, I learned that making a choice for one's favorite wine is a very subjective experience.  Not possessing an "educated palate," I chose the less expensive but, to me, better tasting brand.

            If the inexpensive Gallo beat out the much more expensive Moet and Chandon in my taste test (speaking for uneducated palates everywhere), it makes me wonder if taste alone could be the only standard of evaluating wine.  What is it that makes wine valuable, anyway?  Our own "little ol' winemaker," Mr. Dennis, filled me in on the subject. 

            A wine is judged valuable by three standards, its ingredients, its flavor, and the feeling it imparts.

           

Wine's ingredients, flavor, and feeling

            Its ingredients: The wine is considered valuable for the rarity of the grapes used in its production.  For instance, a bottle of wine may only be called Champagne if the grapes that went into its making were grown in one small portion of the province known as "Champagne" in France.  Real champagne is quite rare.  Although there are many imitations, none are as valuable or authentic as the real Champagne.  A unique grape provides a valuable wine.

            Its flavor: The flavor of the wine really comes from three factors, the taste, the body, and the bouquet.  A wine will taste more dry or sour or will bite as the acid content increases.  Of course, the amount of sugar left in the wine after the yeast have eaten their fill determines the wine's sweetness. 

            The wine's body, that is, its quality of heaviness or lightness has a great deal to do with its ultimate flavor.  Most wines are actually diluted, because the natural juice of the grape is full of "residuals," or solids.  A heavy wine often tastes overpowering - a light wine is easier on the palate. 

            Then, of course, the bouquet is a factor in flavor - actually, the first "taste" of the wine happens when it is passed under the nose - the bouquet registers almost immediately with the brain through the olfactory nerve.

            Its feeling: As for the feeling of wine once it is drunk - most have experienced it, but who can explain it?  An apocryphal source likens wine drinking to the behavior of animals:

after the first glass of wine, one becomes gentle as a lamb;        
after the second glass of wine, as daring as a lion;

after the third glass one is apt to make a monkey of himself;

and after the fourth glass of wine, a man behaves like a pig.

And it certainly has proven true that the abuse of wine causes grave problems, but this was not the creator God's original intention for it.  Rather, as the Psalmist sings, wine is among the staple blessings of God, and has a particular and useful purpose:

You cause greens to grow for cultivation...

to bring forth food from the earth,

  and bread to strengthen souls;

Oil to make faces shine,

  and wine to gladden hearts.  (Psa 104:14,15 a paraphrase)

            No doubt it was with this intention, to gladden hearts, that wine was served at the wedding of Cana, where Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were in attendance.  Hear the story from John's gospel, chapter 2, verses 1 through 11.

 

:John 2:1-11 ([c] 1991 Jackson Snyder) {1} And on the third day there happened a wedding in Cana of Galilee: the mother of Jesus was there. {2} Jesus and his disciples were called (eklethe) to the wedding. {3} When wine was lacking, Jesus' mother says to him, "They don't have any wine!" {4} And Jesus says to her, "What's that to me and you, lady?  My hour is not yet come." {5} So his mother says to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you!" {6} And there were six stone watertanks left from the cleansing of the Jews standing by, each containing about 20 gallons. {7} Jesus says to the servants, "Fill the watertanks with water," and they filled them to the brim. {8} Then he says to them, "Now draw some water and take it to the headwaiter (architriklinoi)," and they took it. {9} But as the headwaiter tasted the water become wine, and not knowing where it came from (though the servants who drew it knew), the headwaiter calls the groom over {10} and says to him, "Everyone else first puts out the good wine, and when they get drunk, the worse.  You have kept back the good wine until now!" {11} Jesus did this in Cana of Galilee as the beginning of the signs and displayed his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

 

The story of Jesus at the wedding is full of symbolic meaning, of which we have only time to touch on a little today.

            To explain: We find it is the third day, which, in John's way of speaking, meant that it was the day of Jesus' glorification in the eyes of humanity, for it was the third day when he was "lifted up" from death.  And the wedding takes place in Cana, the namesake of Canaan, the land known by Joshua as God's promise to the children of Israel.  Thus John is setting up Jesus' first miracle as a sign of the fulfillment of God's promise of a Messiah.

            Jesus' dear mother, who knows better than any other the mission and authority of her son, informs him of what seems to be a rather trivial matter: "Son, they have no wine."  "So what?" he replies, "My hour is not yet come."  In other words, Jesus knew what she wanted him to do, to provide wine!  But what of the dangerous risk of premature exposure?  Nevertheless, her son is acquiescent.  So with the authoritative voice of a Jewish mother, Mary commands the servants to obedience - "Do whatever he tells you!"

            Jesus seemed always to be at odds with the established religion, for Jesus was the new wine that would burst old wineskins.  It was an old Jewish religious ritual that all must wash their hands before and after eating food.  This was not for the sake of hygiene, but tradition.  We recall that Jesus had a dispute with the religious leaders about washing, as recorded in Matthew 15:1-3 (NIV):

            "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?" demanded the Pharisees.  "They don't wash their hands before they eat!"  To this Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?"

            So now Jesus makes these water tanks of old, dead traditions to become the vessels of his glory!  "Fill them to the brim with water," he commands the servants.  This amounts to over 120 gallons!  And through a mechanism that we do not know, the water was made wine.

            Winemaking in Jesus day was not the science it is today.  Producing a fine wine was hit-and-miss, depending on the weather, the soil, the harvest, and just how much bacteria happened to get into the fermentation process.  But with the confidence of a wine-master, Jesus commands the servants to "Take some to the headwaiter for a tasting!"

            Now the headwaiter did not know the uniqueness of the grape, the vintage of the wine, the conditions of its making, or who the winemaker was (though the servants knew).  He merely tasted the wine!  It was not to dry, and not too sweet; it was not too full-bodied, and it was not too light; and the bouquet strangely seemed to be a mixture of the scents of fragrant flowers that had been nurtured by soil that was once desert, now blooming. 

 

Indeed, Jesus' wine was the very essence of who Jesus was: the Son of Man come to earth to gladden hearts and make faces shine through the shedding of his blood.  "Usually the good wine is served first, but you have saved the best for last!" the headwaiter complements a gladdened groom.  And the wine of Jesus' glory, tasted though unrecognized by all at the wedding but his mother and his servants, is not left untasted by we who, in this place today, call ourselves his servants.

            When we drink the good wine of his presence, we remember his admonition to us, "I am the grapevine; you are the branches. If anyone remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  Let us avoid the bitter leas of the false vine, the vine of dead tradition, religiosity, and formalism, in favor of the true vine of Jesus, everliving, everproducing, from which we receive nourishment, and continue to abide in him.  Let us drink wine, the wine of his blood, and thus have his eternal life within us, for the wine of his blood is drink indeed (John 6:53-57).  And it has proven to be not only the true vintage, but also the good wine, made new again and again, whenever his servants fill the water tanks afresh.

            John concludes the wedding story by reminding the reader that the water-turned-wine was the first of Jesus' signs that were meant for revealing his glory - the glory of Jesus personifying the good wine.  What makes Jesus so good, and his vintage better than that of others?  Well, let us remember the three standards of wine-judging our wine-making friend told us: a wine is judged by its ingredients, its flavor, and its feeling.

            Jesus is rare, uncommon, unusual, fine, choice, incomparable, his vintage unique.  He is the only begotten of God - the only Son; he is the only one who has descended from Heaven to earth; thus he is the beloved groom who has promised to return for his faithful bride, then take her home to his Heaven.

            Furthermore, his flavor is pleasing, engaging, enchanting to the palate, piquant, tangy, sweet.  "How sweet are your words to my taste, O Lord, sweeter than honey to my mouth" (Psalms 119:103)!  Friends, "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him" (Psalms 34:8).  And the body of his wine is rich, and is food indeed;

"Your departed friends and relations ate good food but they died.  But here is bread that comes down from Heaven, that you may eat and not die.  This bread is my body," he said, "which I give for the life of the world." (John 6:49-51 paraphrase). 

And his bouquet is like the aroma of Israel "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed" (Genesis 27:27).  Yet it is so much more than the smell of the blessed earth!  "Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you" (Song 1:3)!

            Finally, the feeling, having now drunk so deeply of the wine of his presence, is that of utter intoxication, transportation, and translation: 

{4} He has taken me to the wedding hall, and his banner over me is love. {2} Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-- for your love is more delightful than wine. {5} Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love" (Song 2:4,2,5). 

Even the practical Apostle Paul prefers this feeling over that of wine.  He advises, "Don't get drunk on wine...," there's something infinitely better, "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18).

 

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