“No one pours new wine into old wineskins”

The other day I went to the grocery store and there staring at me from a store display were dozens of boxes of paczkis — Polish sweet rolls. The first sighting of paczkis is the harbinger of Lent, a time of fasting for most Catholics and others of the Christian faith. So this reading from earlier last week may seem appropriate.

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to Jesus and objected,
“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them,
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

Many or perhaps most Protestants don’t fast during Lent. Although fasting is a tradition of the Christian faith, it is mostly observed today by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. As Jesus teaches us here, fasting is not a requirement from God — it is more a requirement from the mind of man. Yet, to each his or her own. It is an expression of personal sacrifice between that person and God.

That lesson aside, something else jumps out at me from this reading from Mark 2:18-22.

“New wine is poured into fresh wineskins,” said Jesus. What is he telling the people who came to him? Is he telling them to change their wineskins? I don’t think so. I think it’s a lesson about our mindset. Jesus changed many things about the ways Jews and Gentiles looked at the world. In particular, Jesus taught us to stop holding the strict adherence to rules over each other at the expense of treating each other with respect and love. And in this quote, Jesus is saying it’s a new day for the world.

Fasting was from the old world view. The old rules didn’t apply to the Gentiles and for Jews, focusing on them at the expense of other things was wrong. In fact, when asked by the Pharisees which was the most important Commandment, Jesus didn’t cite the one about adultery or stealing or murder. He said, quite profoundly, the most important Commandment is to love God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul — and the second most important is to love your neighbor as yourself. And when you look at it in that context, he was also saying that adherence to all those other rules that the Jews focused their attention on, in fact dogmatically forced everyone else to adhere to, weren’t as important as loving God and loving one another.

Jesus is new wine. We are new wine. And the old ways are the old wineskins. Old wineskins may be good for holding old wine but we shouldn’t use them to hold us back from the best of fruits.

Jesus isn’t saying that we should ignore the rest of the Commandments. But he is saying that all those rules should teach us how to live our own lives, not how we force others to live theirs. “Tend to your own knittin’,” as some might say. “To each his own,” another might say. Love God and love others, and the Commandments will come to you with no problem. Love only yourself and you have a problem.



“How does your concern affect me?

Today we read in John 2:1-11 about the beginning of Jesus the Christ’s public ministry. He attends a wedding with his disciples and his mother, Mary. Dear Mary realizes that the newly married couple has run out of wine, and she entreats Jesus to help them.

When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

When I first read this passage many years ago, I wondered if Jesus was being callous when he answered Mary, “how does your concern affect me?” Then realizing this was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry I wondered if perhaps He was a bit timid – afraid. He may have known where it ultimately led and here He was, taking that first fateful step. And yet, there’s another way of looking at this reading.

Many people today are callous or indifferent to the plight of others. When someone points out the poverty or homelessness or hunger of another, people sometimes ask, “How does your concern affect me?” Or, “That’s not my problem – let them get a job!” And I wonder if it might not also be fear — what difference can I make with so many poor, so many hungry, so many homeless, with the complexity of today’s problems?

Well, Jesus led the way through example. He did something about it. No excuses.

True, Jesus’ mother was there to push Him, although I think it was more to encourage Him. And Jesus was the Son of God, so He had powers we don’t have. But Jesus was also the Son of Man — every bit as human as we are, except that he didn’t sin. And if He can take action to help the least among us, then so can we.

“How does your concern affect me?” you wonder. It obligates you to act.

“With you I am well pleased”

“He was like us in every way but in sin,” we often hear about Jesus the Christ. Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus with a reading from Luke (3:15-16,21-22).

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

On what do we dwell in this reading? How about the shared act of baptism? Jesus was the Son of God, yet He humbled himself to share in every experience of humanity save sin, including being baptized. Of course, His baptism was in the Holy Spirit, and in being so, He ushered in a new opportunity for all of us to also be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

The priest in the televised Mass this morning focused on the words in the reading, “heaven was opened.” You might think that meant that in that moment the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. But think about it also as a metaphor for how Jesus opened heaven for the rest of us when He died on the cross and then rose again and forty days later ascended into heaven, leading the way for our own entry to God’s kingdom.

We could also focus on the words, “‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'” After thirty years of living in human form, Jesus is baptized and begins his ministry, and the Father is well pleased. Pleased in His son’s life, pleased in His son’s passion, pleased in His son’s move forward into ministry. Perhaps even pleased in the world His son will refashion in His own image.

Jesus the Christ is God come to us in human form. He lived as we lived to share our humanity. He met us more than halfway, He met us full on, even facing temptation though He never gave in to it. And to send Jesus on to show us how make ourselves to be better humans, the Father blessed his only begotten son with a loving message: “With you I am well pleased.” Imagine how well pleased he is with us when we emulate Jesus, who commands us to love God and love one another — and act accordingly.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me”

There are those who seem to think that Jesus’ sole mission on Earth was to call humans to repent, to call them out for their sins.  Today’s reading comes from Luke 4:14-22. In it, Jesus proclaims the foretelling of his mission in the Old Testament.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

While Jesus frequently in scripture tells people whom he has cured or helped in some other way that it is by their faith that they have been healed, or they should go and sin no more, Jesus only calls out sinners who are hypocrites. And in this reading, Jesus the Christ clearly declares that he was anointed by the spirit to help the poor, free captives and the oppressed, and heal the afflicted.

And Jesus tells us elsewhere that it is not our job to judge others. In fact, he tells us we should worry about our own sins before worrying about the sins of others.

So where do those who claim to be Christians come off judging others for their shortcomings? Jesus even tells us, let him who has not sinned cast the first stone, knowing full well that He is the only one among us who has not sinned and that He is the one who chooses not to cast any stone. If Jesus comes not to cast stones but to heal and aid the poor and set captives and the oppressed free, who are we to do otherwise?

Another reading from the Bible is from 1 John 4:19-5:4. It speaks to our love of God and our love of one another. And this speaks to why we sometimes are quick to judge one another instead of following Jesus’ teachings on judging others.

Beloved, we love God because
he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

If you really love others, if you are full of the love of God, do you really have time to judge them? Better you should spend your time healing and feeding and freeing them as Jesus commands us.