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In Willa Cather's 'One of Ours', there is a passage about a preacher at a country wedding. Here is his thought that I have trouble interpreting:

He looked disconsolately into his ruddy goblet and thought about the marriage at Cana. He tried to apply his Bible literally to life and, though he didn’t dare breathe it aloud in these days, he could never see why he was better than his Lord.

I first though his meaning was that like good wine was served last in the Marriage at Cana, so he coming after Christ was supposed to be the better one, but that seems rather far-fetched.

Here is a little larger excerpt:

The company rose and drank the bride’s health in grape-juice punch. Mr. Royce, however, while the guests were being seated, had taken Mr. Wheeler down to the fruit cellar, where the two old friends drank off a glass of well-seasoned Kentucky whiskey, and shook hands. When they came back to the table, looking younger than when they withdrew, the preacher smelled the tang of spirits and felt slighted. He looked disconsolately into his ruddy goblet and thought about the marriage at Cana. He tried to apply his Bible literally to life and, though he didn’t dare breathe it aloud in these days, he could never see why he was better than his Lord.

source: https://www.bartleby.com/1006/31.html

closed as off-topic by depperm, curiousdannii, KorvinStarmast, Ken Graham, Lee Woofenden Jan 26 at 19:01

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  • I think this is a very good question, which I think is appropriate to ask here, but I should note that there is a literature site where this might also be on topic. – Peter Turner Jan 22 at 21:16
  • @PeterTurner Thank you! I have been looking for a place to ask questions of this sort, so this is helpful. – Victor Dubrovsky Jan 22 at 21:44
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My non-authoritative interpretation is that this is a preacher that takes pride in his righteousness, including forbidding alcohol at weddings. Then, when he thought about the similar situation in Cana, he remembered that Jesus had produced alcoholic drink for the wedding guests.

The preacher knew his actions proved himself to be more righteous than Jesus, but, despite realizing that something must be wrong with that observation, he couldn't bring himself to admit what it was that was actually wrong.

There's also the exacerbating situation that some of his guests sneaked away to get something better to drink, while Jesus's guests complimented the quality of the wine.

  • That makes sense! Then the grape-juice punch served at the wedding must have been non-alcoholic. The bride is a member of the local Prohibition party, so that makes even more sense. – Victor Dubrovsky Jan 22 at 15:08
  • Good answer. +1 – rje Jan 22 at 15:23
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The idea is contrasting their current attitude toward alcohol versus Christ's action in creating alcohol at the wedding in Cana. It is the false idea that abstaining from alcohol makes one more purer, or superior, to others, including Christ. They used grape-juice, but Christ used alcoholic wine.

The two men go to the cellar to drink alcohol in secret, but upon their return to the table, the preacher smells it and feels slighted (ignored) that he too wasn't invited to imbibe of the good stuff.

The preacher wants to apply the bible to his life, like Christ okaying the use of alcohol at weddings, but the world was teaching that alcohol was evil. If alcohol is evil, then he by avoiding it, would make him better than the Lord. This, the preacher finds, is preposterous. But he'd lose his power, prestige, and pocketbook to proclaim the truth. What goes in or doesn't go in your body is not what makes you holy.

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