I’d been in a church maybe five times before I was 21. My family did not even joke about going to Church, so I gathered that anything associated with a house of worship should be avoided unless a special occasion arose. One of those times arrived at the request of my Grandmother (Dad’s Mom), who thought it would be lovely to have the family attend Christmas Eve mass. This was in 1983, and I could think of several things I would rather do than attend. Furthermore, why were my parents even considering this? And why was this important to Grandma? She hadn’t really talked about religion (that I had heard). Apparently, one day I would understand that some things you just do for your parents.
I couldn’t tell you a thing that was discussed, but I remember there were songs, a lot of moving from the uncomfortable pews to the knees, a lot of praying, and, to cap the evening, a line up to receive a wafer and some wine at the front of the church. I’d sipped wine before and it was disgusting. Thanks, I’ll pass. But the family lined up and my mother yanked me. As we inched closer, my anxiety grew. I had found few things at which I didn’t turn up my nose when it came to eating or drinking and I was not about to make yet another concession for the evening.
I was sure I would just find a place to spit it out. Perhaps sensing my thoughts, my mom made one thing clear before I got to the front. You will take the wine, you will drink it, and you will swallow it. And when I finally tasted that vile drink of wine I had my disgust confirmed. What exactly did people see in wine? The whole Blood of Christ thing made no sense either. But, to be fair, it could have been the best wine in the world, but since I was tasting it in Church, it was terrible. Maybe if I had tasted it elsewhere it would have had a better association, and made that sip of wine better.
As Proverbs demonstrates, turns out that wine wasn’t used in religious ceremonies quite yet. They were too busy enjoying it. Amidst all the suffering and toil people during the Old Testament experience, it’s good to know they were able to cut loose and enjoy themselves once in a while with a bottle of wine. Although Proverbs makes clear that some of these folks have taken to the bottle a little too much, and people who over-indulge are to be avoided. Given the number of times this idea is revisited, it seems like this was a big problem. Who knew?
Details like this not only make the people of this era more interesting—they are just as susceptible to vices as we are—they also express ideas that are still relevant today. Who among us hasn’t walked into a bar and made a mental note to avoid the drunk idiot trying desperately to order a drink or slurring his/her speech or staggering towards the bathroom.
But at least these public drunks are unashamed of their love for wine. And perhaps Proverbs has them covered. As stated, hidden love is an issue. Specifically: “Better is an open rebuke than hidden love” (27:5).
Proverbs devotes much attention to the idea of pointing out shortcomings to people so they will learn what they are doing wrong. The curious point here is how hidden love is seemingly wrong. Of course, the love mentioned likely has nothing to do with wine; rather, the idea is that you should not hide your love for another person.
Clearly, the idea is designed to speak for a man to a woman, or perhaps the other way around. Yet, there’s no such context. So, couldn’t this also apply to not being ashamed for one man loving another? Or one woman loving another? Given how much attention to anti-gay ideas is included in the Bible (there really isn’t thus far in the Old Testament), one could understandably look at this line and see it as an endorsement for love between two people in general, regardless of gender.
At the end of the day, Proverbs reminds me that people haven’t changed all that much, which makes me pay a little more attention to the content here. I do wish, however, I could go back and tell my younger self that the problem wasn’t that I was drinking wine in Church or that there was something inherently wrong with wine. The problem was that the wine wasn’t any good. Sometimes it’s not the packaging that matters, it’s the content.