Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
June 5th, 2012

Jesus the Bartender


I have a few images of God. I’ve imagined God as a parent or a friend. I’ve thought of God the Artist when I see the beauty around me or a sky painted with the setting sun. I’ve also considered Jesus the Traveller when I’m on the road or the rails, imagining Jesus by my side as I travel from place to place. It’s kind of nice to think of him keeping me company as I explore new places and encounter new situations. Not a bad travel companion, I say.

But my favorite image of God is Jesus the Bartender. Have you forgotten the wedding at Cana? Jesus made the drinks! It was his first miracle.

Mary: They’re just about out of wine.

Jesus: Is that any of our business, Mother — yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.

Mary: (She goes over to the servants) Whatever he tells you, do it.

Jesus: (To the servants) Fill the pots with water. Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host.

Host: (Takes a sip) Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!

(John 2:3-10, adapted from The Message translation)

Did you hear that? The best stuff. Jesus isn’t bringing out the cheap stuff — he’s saved the best for last.

The Drinks

Alcohol is a part of umpteen cultures and binds people together in special ways. Alcohol can also tear people apart and destroy lives if we let it, but Jesus acknowledged the importance of the wine at the wedding reception. Consider the last special event you went to, perhaps a birthday or a holiday or another celebration. Chances are there was alcohol. People raise their glasses to toast to good health or camaraderie. They share a drink to celebrate friendship or love for one another. Drink brings people together in many contexts (family, co-workers, friends, lovers). When cherished for these properties — and not abused — something sacred occurs.

I think of the bartender in an old movie as a kind of confessor. He’s the one who’ll listen to you and won’t outright judge; he’ll just listen. Maybe bartenders in the real world aren’t like this, but I imagine Jesus the Bartender to be this way. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV)

Saint Ignatius acknowledged that all things have been created for us by God so we can love God:

“All things in this world are also created because of God’s love and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” (Spiritual Exercises [23], Draw Me Into Your Friendship, a contemporary reading by David Fleming, SJ)

He continues to say that we must show reverence for these gifts but if we abuse them we “hinder our growth as loving persons.” See, ideally we go to a bar or come around the table at church to be with other people, not to get away. Jesus wasn’t about keeping the wine away from the people. He loved them so he brought out the good stuff to bring them together. The scriptures continue in John 2:11 to say, “This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory.” And his glory was a revelation of God the Father. Centuries ago the wine in Cana gave the disciples and wedding party a glimpse of God. Isn’t it interesting that the wine at Mass actually becomes Jesus, God’s self? We get our own glimpse today, thousands of years later.

The Bartender

I think of the bartender in an old movie as a kind of confessor. He’s the one who’ll listen to you and won’t outright judge; he’ll just listen. Maybe bartenders in the real world aren’t like this, but I imagine Jesus the Bartender to be this way. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) He’ll order something right up for you: a listening ear, a comforting word, and a break from your hardship, even if that’s just a few minutes time spent with him.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters a woman about to be stoned for the sin of adultery. But the religious leaders and the crowd left after Jesus challenged the one who is without sin to throw the first stone. The story’s a beautiful example of Jesus the Bartender showing compassion, not condemning, but giving some words of advice.

Perhaps a modern-day version of the story could take place in “The Prophet’s Den,” Jesus’ hip, new, yet old-timey pub. A young woman has just been harassed by a group of patrons who learned that she cheated on her boyfriend. They’re shouting at Jesus to throw her out of the bar. “We don’t want her kind in here!”

Jesus says to them, “Anyone who’s never had a lustful thought, go ahead, take her out of here.” One by one they drop some cash on the table for their drinks and retreat quietly, leaving the woman there. Silence. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?” Jesus asks her. “No one,” she replies. “Neither do I,” he says. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” She gets up to leave and Jesus calls out to her. “Oh, one more thing.” “Yes?” she says. Jesus responds, “You’re always welcome here.”

We are always welcome at Jesus’ bar. It’s not just a place for socializing with friends or getting the best custom-made cocktails in Christendom. It’s a ministry. It’s a safe place to feel welcome, to be who you are among friends, and to get a glimpse of God’s glory and goodness.

The next time you drink alcohol, pause for a moment and consider the context you’re in. Is it bringing people you care about together in love? If so, Jesus the Bartender may be there with you, mixing the drinks.

The Author : Andy Otto
Andy Otto is earning his graduate degree in theology and ministry at Boston College and is the creator and editor of GodInAllThings.com, a blog and podcast on Ignatian spirituality. He lives with his wife Sarah in the Boston area.
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  • sr Mary Patricia Murtagh D>C>

    great story makes Jesus so human

  • Rosemary

    I have worked part-time as a bartender for many years and always found it to be an extension of my full time ministry. People drink for a multitude of reasons, but always to fill a need…be it relaxation, enjoyment, disappointment, loneliness…there’s always a need for something. To be a good listening bartender, to be a friend when people need it, to be a good laugh as therapy, is being a compassionate presence…Christlike for certain.

  • Larry

    God as Bartender was the theme of the last episode of the Quantum Leap series.

  • Catholic

    God bless you, Andy!

  • michael

    The title made me think of some inappropriate cocktail napkins. Christ was behind the bar with a cocktail shaker and some woman throws herself on the bar yelling “Christ, I could use a drink.”

  • Janna

    Love this! Such a cool refreshing way to think of Jesus as a bartender, I want to have drinks at his bar.

  • Pat

    Jesus’ bar: “where everyone knows your name”?

  • Laura

    Hi Andy we love this analogy of Jesus so much we have put it as Xt3 News on our website keep up the great work!

  • Fr Tom. Kopp

    Wonderful , I wish you were writing for me, or maybe you just did! good luck in all your future works.

  • Susan

    Andy, you always make us think about how to find God in our everyday world. Your reference to Jesus as a compassionate bartender hit home. Yeah, we are always welcome and we can always ask for forgiveness. Thanks!

  • dee

    Thanks, Andy!
    I’ve heard that Jesus created the miracle at Cana because He didn’t want the party to end; love the idea of Him mixing the drinks, as well.

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