Jesus's Sense of Artistry

The plain fact in John 2.10 is that Jesus makes the best wine. The contrast with Coke is instructive. No one makes the best Coke: what you're drinking is either Coke or it isn't. Coke is mass-produced according to a famously secret recipe, and the production is quality-controlled to ensure the brand keeps its identity. Indeed, the whole point of Coke is that the dose you drink now is indistinguishable from what you drank fifteen years ago.

Here's a ruthless reality: mass society has no interest in beauty. Mass society is fanatical about sameness because, in order to make money, a product has to appeal to the largest number of people. Any unusual characteristic that might irritate customers must be eliminated.

Maintain the ruthlessness just a moment longer. Churches that serve mass society have no interest in beauty. The ethic of sameness dictates that a church fit the prevailing tastes. If it does not, it will lose people. Such churches emphasize conformity rather than depth.

There are other reasons why the churches of mass society don't care about beauty.

For one thing, beauty costs too much. European churches of the 1700s had maintained music directors, composers, instrumental ensembles, and choirs for hundreds of years - a cultural investment that eventually matured into the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The fact that his music is one of the few remaining gospel witnesses on that continent doesn't ease the jaw-dropping impact of the price tag.

Beyond that, people who make beautiful things are weirdos. Bach was notoriously hard to get along with. He played the organ too loud. His music was too complicated.

Further, they're pretentious weirdos. Bach couldn't just play the violin. He had to write three and four parts for one violin to play at the same time.

Contemporary church people weigh these exalted considerations and agree that getting the masses to pray the prayer is more important than art.

This puts mass society churches in direct conflict with Jesus.

Two women anointed him with costly perfume (Luke 7.37-38; John 12.3). This means a craftsman fussed over the ointment, mixing it according to a refined recipe and throwing out the batches that weren't up to standard. His weird fixation with getting the stuff to smell exactly right was what made it so pricey. Jesus accepted the women's offering of scent.

According to John (19.23-24), Jesus wore a seamless tunic valuable enough that the Roman soldiers gambled for it rather than tear it into four parts. This means a weaver put extra labor and skill into the garment, creating a unique cloth that would be valuable not for its utility but for its beauty. Why was Jesus wearing such expensive threads?

Because he cared about physical expressions of beauty. He knew that beauty ministers to the human soul. So when he made wine - just as when he made the souls that would consume it - he made it surpassingly well.

The question today is not how we will win souls to Christ if we invest in beauty, but how we will win them if we don't. Our Coke society - with its killing conformity - is creating an audience thirsty for wine.