Friday, January 25, 2013

Samuel visits Cana part one


'I am not happy about this.'
Samuel looked at his father in surprise. His father was looking at the line of laden carts with a worried expression on his face. They were piled high with plates and goblets, rugs and cushions, and all kinds food, and many other things besides. His father was a wedding steward, the man people came to to organise their wedding celebrations. There was no finer wedding steward in all of Galilee. Samuel was puzzled to see him looking so concerned. 
'What is the matter, papa? he asked. 
'It is this wedding today in Cana …' 
'Yes?' 
'Well, they are poor people …' 
'Are you worried that we will not be paid? Then insist that they pay us before we do the work!' 
His father looked at him with a flash of anger in his eyes. 

'Poor people deserve a decent wedding as much as anyone. The father of the bridegroom, Shemi, was a good customer before the Romans nearly taxed him out of business. I would not shame him now by refusing to deal with him and let the world see that he can no longer afford to hire me. For this family I have already arranged a special low price, and honest folk that they are, they have already paid me.'
'Then why do you worry?' 
'I worry because these good people are so kind and generous. They do not seem to know where to stop when it comes to invitations. Every day, the list of guests has grown longer and longer. I worry that they may have invited too many people and there will not be enough.' 
Samuel eyed the groaning carts. 

'But surely there is enough here for an army!' he protested.
'Yes, yes,' his father said testily. 'Knowing who I am dealing with, I have added extra food. That at least will not be a problem. It is the wine that worries me.' 
'But we do not supply the wine,' said Samuel. 
'That is what worries me. It is outside my control. At a wedding, the time comes when all anyone cares about is the wine. And if Shemi has invited too many, it will not last.' 
'So if it runs out, they simply buy more,' said Samuel. 
'Were you not listening? They don't have the money to buy more. The wine merchants can't afford to pour wine into a wedding for free and they all know that Shemi doesn't have the money to pay them. And if the wine runs out, then Shemi will be disgraced before the world … shown as a man too poor to provide enough wine for even a one-day wedding feast, when most others manage at least three, and others as many as seven!' 

His father sighed and got into the first cart. Samuel climbed in beside him. Behind, the men who would drive the other carts and act as servants at the wedding also climbed up and soon the little caravan was on the road for Cana. As they rattled along in the grey light of early morning, Samuel shivered a little, and leaned into his father for warmth.

'Papa?' he said.
'Yes, son?' 
'If the family does not have the money, could we not help?' His father squeezed him tight. 
'You are a good boy, Samuel. Your words make me proud. But, alas, we can not. The wine dealers would know that it must be we who pay; the word would get out that the wedding steward had had to help him out; and he would be shamed. And even if the wine dealers and their servants could keep their mouths closed, which they could not, Shemi would know, and again he would be shamed.' 
'So what is to be done, papa?' 
'We be careful. You keep an eye on the men. I'll warn them to be careful never to over-fill anyone's glasses. You make sure they heed my words.' 
'I will, papa. And what about the men in charge of mixing the wine and water?' For in Israel, as in all the Mediterranean world, no one drank wine unless it was first mixed with water, sometimes one part, sometimes as much as four if they were especially poor. 
'Good thinking. I will tell them not to mix it too strong' 
'But not too weak either, papa. For if it is too weak, surely that will shame them also!' 
'Agreed. Does two-and-a-half parts water to one-part wine sound about right?' 
'It does.' 
'Then perhaps this wedding will go off without a problem after all!' 

As they trundled along, Samuel fell asleep next to his father. It had been an early start. His father threw his cloak around him to keep him warm. But all too soon they were in Cana at the house of Shemi. Then Samuel awoke and scrambled down and joined the others in setting up tables and piling them with food, setting out glasses and plates, laying out cushions and rugs for the guest to recline on. The day was growing hot, but that was no concern, for his father was not thought the best wedding steward in Galilee without reason. On the carts were also ropes and poles and awnings and in no time a small village of shade had grown up in the place where the wedding feast was to take place.

For the first several hours all was well. The men kept the guests' plates piled with food. Samuel and his father kept a watchful eye on the supply of wine. His father winked at him.
'I think we're going to be all right,' he said softly. 
'I think we are, papa,' Samuel replied, smiling happily, glad to think that this family's special day would not be spoiled. But then his smile faded. 'Or perhaps we will not be,' he said, looking over his father's shoulder. His father followed his gaze, and groaned. Coming along the road was another group of people, almost as many as were already at the wedding. 

'Who can they be?' said his father in near horror. 'Surely they can not be more guests?' But his fears were proved true when Shemi leapt to his feet and roared a greeting at the newcomers.
'My cousins from Nazreth! I thought you would never make it!' As greetings were exchanged, the servants buzzed into the crowd with plates and glasses. Samuel's father drew him a little distance away. 

'Well, it is as I feared. There is no way the wine will last now, not even if we made it ten parts water.'
'Surely they can't all be cousins?' said Samuel in wonder, staring at the throng. His father shook his head. 
'No. I know the family. Only a few are cousins. But one of those cousins is Jesus, that young rabbi everyone is talking about. A great many have become his followers. They go everywhere with him. And it looks like poor, foolish, generous Shemi has invited all of them as well.' 

'Is there a problem?'

Both Samuel and his father jumped. They turned to find a small woman standing near them. She was dressed in blue and even though she was older even than his mother, Samuel thought she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.
'Madam?' stammered Samuel’s father. 
'You sounded worried. You're the wedding steward, aren't you? I am Mary, Shemi's cousin. I'm sure you can't have been expecting so many extra. Is everything all right?' 
'Of course, of course,' said his father. 'Will you excuse me? Come Samuel, we have work to do.' He hurried off. But before he could follow, Mary took him by the sleeve. 

'I am sorry,' she said. 'What can I do?' Samuel just shook his head.
'There is nothing you can do,' he said. 'The wine is running out. In fact,' he said, seeing a servant shaking an empty jug over a guest's glass, 'it probably has already run out. My father feared this would happen. We hoped we could make it last, but then …' 
'But then, we came,' said the lady. 'Well, it is my son's fault for having so many people who like to follow him about all over the countryside. So we shall let him sort it out. Come with me!'
 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

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