Monday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39

New Wine in New Wineskins

Many things did Jesus and his disciples that confused others. In this case, even the disciples of John the Baptist were baffled.  In that day, fasting was a common discipline among religious people; indeed, it has been for Christians throughout the centuries.  Unfortunately, it has fallen out of practice, and has never been popular in America.  However, I have noticed more Christians talking about it over the past several years.  Historically, it has had two main purposes: 1) as a regular spiritual disciple that one should observe just as one attends church, prays, reads the Bible, and does good works.  An ancient church manual records that Jews fasted Mondays and Thursdays while Christians fasted Wednesdays and Fridays (Didache 8:1); and, 2) as a special time of humiliation and prayer when pleading with God for mercy or to know His will on a particular matter.

Well in this passage, the disciples of John ask why it is that Jesus’ disciples fast not while they and the disciples of the Pharisees do?  And rather than getting some practical advice about fasting, Jesus’ answer points to something far better: the uniqueness of this brief moment of time in which they were all living, the time in which they were in the presence of God’s Christ.  Two-thousand years after God’s promise to Abraham that through him (his seed) all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3), and a few thousand before that when God promised Eve that her seed would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), and all the prophecies of the prophets down through the ages – were now being fulfilled in the very presence and person of Jesus, though the people were too blind to see it.  How can anyone proclaim a fast at a wedding reception?  Such is a time for joy and feasting.  Jesus is the long-expected Bridegroom, a term John the Baptist used in reference to Christ (John 3:29).  And his Bride is the Church.

Jesus then used a parable to illustrate the situation that everyone standing there was living in.  No one puts a new, unshrunk piece of cloth on an old garment lest when it shrinks the tear is made worse; nor does one put new wine in old wineskins lest the old wineskins burst as the new wine ferments.  These two parables illustrate the new situation that was bursting on the scene in Jesus.  The new age was dawning spoken of by the prophets: the Servant of the Lord was soon to give his life and rise again (Isaiah 53) and the Holy Spirit would be poured out (Joel 2).  The Old Covenant under which God’s people labored would pass away and the long-awaited New Covenant would commence.  Then they would fast, but in this new age of grace.

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