Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”
He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translation
At first blush, today’s reading makes me want to join those who say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Poor Jesus is confronted, yet again, by the same religious leaders who confront him for not following the rules regarding forgiveness of sins, eating with sinners, observing the sabbath. This time it’s because his disciples favor feasting over fasting.
Jesus, of course, responds brilliantly and makes the rules police think. “Look,” he says in so many words, “I’m the Son of God and I have an intimate relationship with my disciples and the world. I’m not going to be on this earth forever, so there will be plenty of time for fasting. But while I’m here we are going to love and live.”
Score one for Jesus.
But Jesus being Jesus, he doesn’t want to subvert the rules or denigrate religious practice. His mission is to honor religion while helping it live and breathe.
If the letter and the spirit of the law are at odds, nobody wins. You can’t patch an old cloak with a new one, because you ruin both. And you can’t fill an old wineskin with new wine because as the new wine ferments it will make the old skin explode.
Is it possible, then, to replace the old cloak with a new one or put new wine in new wineskins without disrespecting the past? Yes! Old wine in old wineskins is delicious; “the old is good.” But remember, it was once new wine in new wineskins.
The word religion comes from two Latin roots re (again) and ligare (to tie together). The goal of religion is to “to tie together again” the events of life so that they make sense and lead to fullness. At its best, religion’s foundation in Scripture, ritual, and tradition gives us a spirituality through which we can combine all the fragments of life into a complete whole and be who God dreams us to be.
Is it possible to be spiritual and religious? What conflicts about religious practice do you wrestle with? How might you follow Jesus’ example in dealing with these tensions?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life
Lord, who or what might I need to see with “new” eyes? Could it be a family member, a friend, someone at work? Do you want me to handle conflict so that I do not chase others away? Could it be that I need to hold a crucial conversation with someone who has broken a promise, betrayed a trust, or been insensitive to my needs?
Lord, help me to see such situations from the perspective of mutual benefit. Let my “new” perspective move me forward so when others see my behaviors and hear my words, they are drawn closer to you.
—The Jesuit Prayer TeamPlease share the Good Word with your friends!