On water and wine

A reflection by Nigel Varndell, Embrace's Director of Fundraising and Marketing on his return from a trip to Egypt, meeting Embrace partners in January 2016.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.

John 2v1

I have always had a problem with the story of the wedding at Cana. There is something incongruous about the Son of God exerting miraculous power to offset the consequences of poor catering decisions. Why not just nip out to the local Galilean off license and buy some more instead?

And that discomfort with the passage means that we often interpret it symbolically, remembering that other great event that happened ‘On the third day’ and seeing in the passage an early hint about who Jesus really is.

But what if there is another way of reading the passage?

On my overseas visits I have often been struck by the overwhelming generosity of the very poorest people and the sense that one of the greatest hurts that poverty can inflict is the indignity of having nothing to offer a guest. I have often wondered if the family who threw the wedding at Cana were poor, and if so how that might affect the way we viewed the passage. Might it be that running out of wine and not being able to look after guests is not about food and drink but about the humiliating indignity of being poor?

If so then Jesus miracle is not a story about providing for material need but is actually a story of the redemption of people from indignity, about restoring people’s pride and humanity.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was visiting Embrace partner Think and Do in rural Egypt. There I met a group of women who had been learning basic life skills, things we might take for granted; simple health and hygiene knowledge, cookery skills, sewing classes, reading and writing. I asked the women what had been the biggest impact of their study and Hana replied:

'I used to be told that my opinions don’t matter, that I am just I woman, but now I know I have the right to speak and I am proud.'

Yes, Hana had learnt skills that had improved her life in material ways. But the real change was that she had discovered that she mattered. Rather than being constantly told she was worthless the classes had helped her discover her dignity, her pride, her sense of value as a human being.

For Hana, attending the classes was not just a practical benefit but was the moment when water turned into wine.

You can help more women like Hana by supporting women's education and empowerment projects. Visit www.embraceme.org/womens-education-appeal now.

You are welcome to reproduce this reflection with attribution. Names have been changed.