Philip, by Gods grace the fourth disciple whom Jesus Christ called to follow him,
To John, who is even now compiling a gospel about the life of our Lord,
You have requested, for your forthcoming book, that I write to you with my recollections of the first few days I spent in Jesuss company. That was indeed a memorable week, I can assure you.
Meeting the Chosen One
I happened to be in Bethany-beyond-Jordan when the famous John the Baptist was baptizing there. I was rooming with Andrew and Simon, two brothers who were friends of mine from back home in Bethsaida.
One of the brothers, Andrew, had recently become a follower of the Baptist. Andrew and a second follower were standing near the Baptist one day. (I wont mention the other mans name, but we referred to him afterwards as the disciple whom Jesus loved, if you know what I mean.) Jesus happened to walk by. There he goes! the Baptist exclaimed. Thats the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! I have seen it and I bear witness: this is Gods Chosen One!
Andrew didnt quite know what to make of this, and the other disciples eyes widened, but they walked after the man whom the Baptist had pointed out. Jesus turned around and asked what they wanted. The other disciple answered, Where are you staying, Teacher? Come and see, Jesus replied. The two men followed. It was about four in the afternoon, and they spent the rest of the day with him.
The first thing Andrew did the next morning was to come back to our rooming house and find his brother Simon, telling him Weve discovered the Messiah! Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and gave him the new name of Peter, the Rock.
It seems Jesus had been invited to a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana, near his own hometown of Nazareth. He was planning to depart shortly, and Andrew and Simon Peter and the other disciple decided to tag along.
But before leaving, Andrew fetched me to meet Jesus too. Jesus said simply, Follow me. I knew immediately that I should.
Like Andrew, I just had to spread the news to somebody else. I happened to know a man from Cana whose name was Nathaniel, and I knew he was in the area. I went to find him. He was sitting under a fig tree not far away. I told him, Weve found the man foretold by the prophets! It is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.
Nazareth? exclaimed the man from Cana. Can anything good come from Nazareth? I answered, Come and see. So he did. Jesus saw him coming and said, Now here's an Israelite who isn't afraid to speak his mind! Impressed, Nathaniel also became Jesuss disciple.
A Wedding to Attend
Our little group, Jesus and his five new friends, arrived at Cana a couple of days later. There we joined another group that had come out from Nazareth: his mother Mary and her other sons, Jesuss brothers.
I was introduced to the father of the bride. Ill wager, I said to him, that when you invited Mary and her guests you didnt think that almost a dozen of us would show up!
No problem, he replied. The more the merrier. Ive ordered extra food for the feast, and of course Clopas has agreed to pay for everything.
Clopas? I asked.
The groom, he explained. Im proud to say that my daughter is marrying a very wealthy man. Now what was your name again?
Philip, from Bethsaida, I answered.
Really? I have a little boy named Philip as well. We call him Philip Nicolai. Hes twelve years old. Youll see him around. Hell talk your ear off. And so he did.
The Younger Philip
You havent met my sister, have you? Philip Nicolai began. Im glad shes getting married. Im tired of having her traipse around the house. Shes always boasting about the rich husband shes landed. You know how much Clopas is spending on his wedding? Its a lot, let me tell you. My father had to order in 600 gallons of wine! My sister doesnt deserve it. She and her friends will be in there with all the music and dancing, celebrating with all that strong drink, but not me. Im not even allowed to taste wine yet because Im not old enough. I cant drink until Ive had my bar mitzvah. But thats only six months away! Im planning ahead.
Jesus had strolled over to join the conversation, which Philip Nicolai continued to monopolize. You want to know what I did, to plan ahead? I skimmed off some of that fancy wine some of the best stuff. And I hid it until after my bar mitzvah. Then well have quite the celebration, my buddies and I, let me tell you.
How does one hide wine? I asked.
The boy was happy to tell me. I found 30 empty clay water jugs. Theyre plainly marked water, with the wavy-lines symbol, you know? But I secretly filled each of them with five gallons of wedding wine. Then I hid the jugs in a closet out in the spring house. Theyll never find them there.
But isnt that stealing? Jesus asked mildly. Youve read the Scriptures. You do know thou shalt not steal, dont you?
Clopas still has 450 gallons of wine for his feast, Philip Nicolai rationalized. By the time they get through all of that, theyll be so drunk they wont know whether its wine or beer theyre guzzling. Theyll never miss what Ive set aside. The twelve-year-old trotted off, quite proud of his ingenuity.
Oh, No! A Delay!
About then one of his older sisters came by. She was the maid of honor, and she seemed distraught. Nathaniel and I asked her what was wrong.
This weddings going to be ruined! she moaned. We scheduled the ceremony for sundown. But that jerk just sent word that his business in Capernaum is taking longer than expected.
Do you mean Clopas, the bridegroom?
This is a disaster, the maid of honor continued. Hes going to be several hours late getting here. Late, to his own wedding!
So when exactly is he expected to arrive?
We dont know! It could be midnight, or even later! What are we going to do?
Well, the other guests figured out what to do. They began sipping the wine. The party started early, and the carefully-arranged chairs for the wedding ceremony began to fall into disarray.
The Lighted Passage
However, the bridesmaids couldnt join in that frivolity. They were expected to form an outdoor reception committee to welcome the groom. Lined up in a double file alongside the path leading from the road to the door of the house, there they would stand, five from the brides family on one side and five from the grooms family on the other, each holding a brightly-glowing oil lamp. Youve got to be ready when the time comes! demanded the maid of honor. So the girls dutifully lit their lamps and stood huddled in the vestibule, waiting to go out.
Philip Nicolai was amused by the sight. Those girls think theyre so clever, he giggled. Theyre going to be standing there for hours!
I know how you can help, his father suggested. Why dont you go up on the roof and watch for Clopas? When you see him coming, you can alert the rest of us, and well send the bridesmaids out.
Of course! Philip Nicolai exclaimed. Ill be the watchman on the heights! Just like in Isaiah chapter 52, when they saw the exiles returning from Babylon to Zion. Break forth together into shouts of joy, you ruins of Jerusalem! Thats what Ill call out.
You dont have to be quite that dramatic, his father remonstrated. Our house might be a bit of a mess, but its hardly the ruins of Jerusalem. However, that didnt dampen his sons enthusiasm, and he scampered up to the roof.
Hours passed. Alone under the stars, Philip Nicolai wrote a poem about his assignment.
At Last, Hes Arriving
It was indeed after midnight when we heard Philip Nicolai call out, Hey, wake up! The girls had all dozed off. I know; I was keeping my eye on them. They hurriedly shook themselves, trimmed their lamps, and prepared to take their stations.
However, the five who represented the grooms family discovered their lights were sputtering. Our lamps are going out! they exclaimed to the other five. We didnt bring any oil to refill them. The maid of honor should have reminded us. Give us some of yours.
But the brides side of the aisle refused, saying, We were prudent and brought extra flasks of oil, but we dont have enough for all ten of us. Youd better go to the store and buy some for yourselves. At this time of night? the others wailed. But they had no choice. They went off looking for lamp oil, and I never saw them again.
Jesus stood near me, taking this all in. You know, he mused, I could use this for a sermon illustration. The kingdom of heaven is coming soon, but no one knows the day or the hour. So we must always be ready, lest we miss the wedding.
The ceremony was duly performed, though some decorations were now out of place and half the bridesmaids were absent. Afterwards the party really began, and the wine really began to flow.
In the small hours of the morning, Jesus decided wed all had enough, and our table stopped drinking. Just in time, apparently, because it was not long afterward that his mother came by, followed by four worried-looking servants: two waiters and two wine-stewards. She whispered to Jesus, They have no wine left.
Thats no concern of mine, he told her. What do you want me to do about it? My hour is not yet come.
I don't care, she replied. See if theres any way you can help. And to the servants she said, Do whatever he tells you.
Well, Philip, Jesus muttered to me, Mother Mary has spoken. It appears that my hour has come. Lets go take a look at the situation. You come too, Philip Nicolai.
Seven of us, including the four servants, trudged to the pantry in an adjoining building. Philip Nicolai was singing, Lets go out to the pantry! Lets go out to the pantry! Lets go out to the pantry, and find ourselves some wine! He might have been sampling the grape slightly ahead of schedule.
In the outbuilding, we found no more wine. But there were six stone water jars standing empty, the kind used for the Jewish rites of purification. Each appeared to hold about 25 gallons. A little multiplication reminded Jesus and me of the 150 gallons of wine that the boy had hidden in the spring house. An idea began to form.
Fill the jars with water, Jesus ordered the two waiters.
Where should we find that much water? they objected. Do you expect us to lug these huge stone jars out to the spring house, fill them up from the spring, and drag them back? Once theyre filled, theyll weigh 300 pounds each!
Hmm, said Jesus. Perhaps theres an easier way. When I was in the spring house earlier, I think I saw some five-gallon water jugs in a closet there.
No! screamed Philip Nicolai, having discerned the plan. We cant carry all those jugs back here.
Of course we can, if we make several trips, said Jesus. You two waiters, stay here. The wine-stewards and the rest of you, follow me.
When we opened the closet, the wine-stewards sniffed the water jugs and looked at each other questioningly. But Jesus said, Not a word. And, obeying Marys order, they were silent. So the five of us, including a grumbling Philip Nicolai, carried the jugs back to the pantry and filled the stone jars to the brim.
Now then, said Jesus to the waiters, draw some off and take it to the master of the feast, and they did so. The master tasted the water now turned into wine. He didnt know where it had come from, though of course the servants knew. He called over the bridegroom to congratulate him. Everyone else, he said, serves the best wine first, and the poorer wine only after everyone is already tipsy. But you have kept the best wine until now!
Naturally, the waiters had to tell everyone how they had magically drawn this excellent wine from jars of ordinary water, and how Jesus was responsible for the transformation. As word spread, people began referring to this trick as a miracle. They remembered the story of the Greek goddess Oeno, to whom Dionysus gave the power of turning water into wine. Perhaps Jesus himself was one of the gods.
It was the first of many signs that Jesus would perform, leading his disciples to believe in him.
(a retelling, with considerable embellishment, of John 1:34 through 2:11. See also John 21:2. Click here for some comments about writing this story)
Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.