Sunday reflection: February 26, 2006

Today's gospel (Mk 2:18-22) is one of those odd mishmashes of sayings that were probably never spoken together during Christ's lifetime. Because such serial lists appear several places in the gospels, there is a tendency to imagine that when Jesus got up to talk, that he just let loose with a series of one-liners. Perhaps he did, but who would have understood him?

Instead, it is more likely that the gospel writers, faced with a large collection of sayings, arranged them by topic and wrote them down wherever it made sense to do so. Or wherever one saying might shed light on another.

In today's reading, Jesus says:
1) Don’t facts while the bridegroom is present
2) Don’t using new cloth to patch an old cloak
3) Don’t pouring new wine into an old wineskin

The 2nd and 3rd saying are very similar -- and share the warning not to combine something new with something old. The saying about the bridegroom, though, is not strictly similar, teaching (as it does) that now is the time to par-tay, not to fast.

In any event, the meaning of the gospel is rather obscure. Is Jesus saying that you can't mix an old form (Judaism) with his teaching without destroying both? That he needs a new container (a new religion?) in order to function properly? This would certainly square with the supecessionist view of previous generations of Christians.

Or are there other possibilities?

How about this one? The eschatological (end-times) kingdom of God which Jesus preached is a radical departure from the mores of traditional societies and approaches to God. It means turning one's back on the constraints that govern such societies and families -- both then and now. It means leaving the dead to burty their dead; children to hate their parents; people to hate their own lives. Life in this new kingdom not about making a good living. It is not about creating a well-oiled society. It is definitely not about maintaining the status quo. It is about moving societies and people out of circular, well-worn ruts and onto a new and straighter road.

If the eschatological kingdom is a wedding feast -- a simile Christ used often -- then the time for rejoicing is here – certainly while he, the bridegroom, was among us. The time for fasting -- times of trouble and persecution -- would come soon enough. But for the present, feast! Enjoy the bounty of the land! Laugh and live! Rejoice that a new way is being blazed through the desert proclaiming good tidings and the nearing of our God!

A bridegroom, a patch and a new wineskin. Homely examples of the ever-new and ever-renewing covenant of God and his people.

Let us pray.

Lord, we find ourselves trapped in old routines, enslaved by the demands of others and unable to easily free ourselves. Yet you encourage us with visions of feasting and fellowship! May we have the courage to imagine solutions to our troubles and a time when we break free to join you on the road to freedom and new life. Help us to shed addictions and routines that constrain us and keep us from becoming all we can be. Help us to recognize that now is the time to rejoice; now is the time to accompany you to the wedding feast that is always in full swing.

In your name we pray.