Using our new, flexible wineskins

Monday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary time
Hebrews 5:1-10; Psalm 110; Mark 2:18-22

What is fashion? It usually refers to something that’s popular and of the latest style. Some also say that fashion is cyclical and reflective of the current mood of the times. Whatever one takes to be fashion, we would all agree that it might be good to be aware of fashion but one should not seek to follow it slavishly either. I for one am somewhat aware of fashion and realise that if I wear the same sorts of things all the time, I can be fashionable for a few months every few years. Fashion comes and goes but a question remains – why? What do we always year for that which is new? The readings for today hint at that and more.

The Lord spoke of old cloaks and new patches, of old wineskins and new wine. At first glance, it seems to be telling us that we should embrace the new and forget about the old. But a slightly more cautious approach to the message would be preferable as we don’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Are we asked to look get rid of all our old ways and embrace new ones? I think not, and a closer look at the images the Lord gives will show that.

New wineskins? Why?

Why the image of old wineskins and new wine? Old wineskins burst because they are rigid and inflexible. New wine is ‘vibrant’ and needs space to expand due to the continuing fermentation. The vibrancy of the fermentation can cause the rigid skins to crack and ultimately burst. Unshrunken cloth is inflexible too and ruins the cloak that it’s patched on as the two pieces of cloth move and stretch differently. So perhaps the Lord is not telling us about the divide between the old and the new but more about the need to be flexible. To be able to embrace the new while recognising where we came from.

It’s also important to understand the context of the Gospel: Jesus was preaching to Jews clinging on to old laws. They were clinging on in a way that was rigid and inflexible. He wanted them to embrace life – to follow the law but not to get so bogged down to following the letter of the law that one loses the joy of life. As those whose life lives are supposed to reflect the joy of the Lord’s resurrection, we should not be sourpusses (as Pope Francis mentions in his apostolic letter) in spreading the message of love and joy. Joy does not get spread through frowns.

The 1st Reading tells us of Jesus the high priest. It’s a reminder that he did not come not out of nowhere but out of the deep history of the priesthood of Israel. The old is relevant and grounds us in where we came from. The understanding of the priesthood of Jesus is consonant with the priesthood that came before him and this understanding continues as we feel the Lord’s presence in our lives.

And the images of cloak and wineskin remind us that with us is Christ flexible. We are reminded as we recognise all that is good and useful in the world and see how the Lord uses that to heal and to spread love. There’s no one single absolute way of doing things (like following the law strictly to the letter) but a myriad of ways that are animated by the one law that Jesus keeps reminding us about – to love one another as he has loved us. The reminder also is not to be caught in the fixity of materialism, relativism and destructive lifestyles. It’s easy to follow rules but difficult to give ourselves sufficient flexibilty to love each flawed individual we meet with our own flawed humanity. That’s the challenge to be the new, flexible wineskins that the Lord tells us to be.

So, be new wineskins, bring the new wine of faith and salvation to others. And do not be afraid to do so. The new wine may be an acquired taste but it’s our duty to bring it to others to sample. After all, who would refuse a smiling bearer of wine?

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about the brushhead

had a head like a brush (it's more like an egg now). seeks to sweep through thought and faith with that brush. tries to wax philosophical but often forgets to wax off. trying to be good brush to all, while discerning what kind of brush he's meant to be.

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