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.
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.
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 , 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.
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.