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.