A Wedding Rescued
Sprinkled with several laugh-out-loud anecdotes, Tony Schmidt’s book, Jesus Did Many Other Things as Well, describes what it’s like to serve in Japan, Japanese culture, western-eastern challenges, as well as practical spiritual lessons. What follows is one chapter, excerpted from this book, which describes how God broke down barriers through a hilarious translation glitch.
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A Wedding Rescued
“A wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. …When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” …Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”… and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.” John 2:1-9
A handsome young man named Michito began attending the church where Laura, an American single missionary, was serving. It was an exciting time when Michito believed and was baptized. Their relationship blossomed into love, and they announced their engagement to be married. Everyone at church was very happy, but Michito’s father was dead against the proposed marriage on two accounts – (1) his son was going to marry a foreigner and (2) she was a Christian. It was bad enough that his son had become a Christian, but now it would seem that any future offspring would become Christians as well!
Many people in Japan feel that to become a Christian is to be no longer fully Japanese. In Japanese thinking, the spirits of the ancestors are still very much part of the present family and filial piety is a highly prized virtue. Many people believe that their spirit’s wellbeing after death depends on how religiously their offspring carry out their duties of prayer and offering rice and drink to the spirits of the deceased ancestors at the family Buddhist altar. To faithfully attend to this altar is seen as an honorable act of filial piety. Parents and grandparents often feel abandoned and alarmed at what appears to them to be the ingratitude of offspring who refuse to perform their filial duties when they become Christians.
For these reasons Michito’s father was very upset. He announced that if the wedding was to go ahead as planned he would disown his son, cut him off from the family inheritance and refuse to go to the wedding.
Despite this threat, Michito and Laura decided to proceed with their wedding plans. Because her father was unable to come to Japan for the wedding, Laura asked me to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day to give her away to her husband-to-be. Feeling honored, I quickly agreed, and then realized that I would also be expected to give a speech in Japanese on behalf of Laura’s family at the reception! Such speeches have to be given using a highly polite form of Japanese with which I was not very familiar.
In preparing the speech, I became more aware of Michito’s family’s feelings. The father was adamantly opposed, but the other family members were caught up in the joy of the coming wedding on the one hand, and the anger of Michito’s father on the other. There was great tension in the family.
At that time I was still studying at the Japanese Language School in Sapporo and I was in the process of reading and studying the Prodigal Son (Houtou Musuko) story. Learning new words and trying to get my tongue to pronounce them acceptably was always a challenge and now this, my first wedding speech, seemed to be full of difficult new words to pronounce and remember!
Soon the great day of the wedding dawned. On the way to the church, I had my speech next to me on the passenger seat. At every traffic light I would once again quickly scan my script before driving off. At one traffic light I was a bit slow to brake and gently bumped into the back of a bus. The driver did not bother to check, but all the passengers in the back seat turned around to look at who had bumped the bus. My stress level spiked! I was still sitting in the car bowing my apologies as the bus pulled away.
Once I arrived at the church I went over to greet Michito’s very anxious-looking family members. His father had reluctantly agreed to attend the wedding at the last minute, and now no one knew what to expect from him. I tried to encourage Laura to relax and enjoy her wedding day and then walked her down the aisle to the waiting groom. As I sat through the wedding service I found myself praying and trying to memorize my speech rather than listening to what was being said.
At the reception, I noticed that none of the guests at Michito’s family table were eating or talking. Everyone was looking furtively at the father, hoping he would at least pretend to look happy. He would not. It promised to be a very dismal wedding reception.
The time of reckoning arrived. I was called upon to give my congratulatory speech. Amongst the guests were family members, friends of the bride and the groom, church members, language school teachers and fellow missionaries. I felt fairly comfortable with the opening paragraph of my speech. “I won’t have to read every word of the first paragraph,” I thought. Smiling at the guests, I boldly opened my mouth and started to speak. I had not gone far before I realized that there was a lot of whispering and chuckling going on. Michito’s father raised his eyes. Looking at me, he started to smile! Then he erupted with laughter. At this, the other family members began to laugh with him. This prompted many other guests to start laughing too! The atmosphere took on a lighter note. Everyone except me seemed to be enjoying a good joke. I suspected that I had made a grammatical error but in my panicky state I did not realize the mistake I had made. I finally got through the speech and sat down, relieved that it was over.
After the reception quite a few missionaries and Japanese said they admired my nerve to crack a joke like that. Apparently I had addressed the couple as “bride and prodigal son” – I had called the groom “Houtou Musuko” instead of “Hanamuko.” No wonder Michito’s father had looked upon me with favor. He thought he had found a like-minded person! The word prodigal described how he felt about his son! Despite all the congratulations and expressions of admiration received due to my unintended joke, I felt deeply ashamed that I had embarrassed my friend Michito and his bride on their special day. When I apologized to them later, they told me that they thought I had done that on purpose to break the tension!
Long ago Jesus also attended a wedding. A tense situation arose when the wine ran out. The bridal couple would have been greatly embarrassed, but Jesus rescued them from that predicament by turning water into wine.
As my wife and I drove home, we felt that Jesus had rescued the wedding by letting me make that error in order to bring blessing and happiness to the couple, as well as many others. That would be just like Jesus!
Michito and Laura moved away from Sapporo so it was a year or two later when we heard the good news that a baby boy was born to them. They told us that nobody was more proud of their boy than Michito’s father, who had reinstated his son, accepted his daughter-in-law, and was a very happy grandfather!