Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalm 110
Mark 2:18-22

REFLECTION: "Sometimes you've got to break a few... wineskins."

Things that remain static over time generally become, well, boring. But changing the status quo is often an arduous process. The old adage, "You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette" is an apt, if trite, reference to this fact. We are called to do things, sometimes, that radically shake up our experience of life in order to move forward in the pathway that God has in his heart for us.

Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus' disciples are asked about fasting... specifically why they aren't following the same fasting schedule as other prominent groups who are present in the region at that time. Jesus gives an initial answer which seems to point at himself as a reason... but he then goes on to offer two other analogies for his disciples behavior. I want to focus, for a moment, on the second of his analogies.

A wineskin was an animal hide, as the name suggests, that was used to contain wine. What is not immediately obvious from the context, and what we miss if we don't know how a wineskin was properly used, is the fact that fresh grape juice or very new wine was generally poured into a wineskin for the purposes of fermentation and aging, similar to the way we place wine in oaken barrels today. These skins were usually made from goatskin, which has a similar tension as most other animal skins... which is to say that it is resilient, but not terribly thick. And, just as is the case with any other animal skin, when the wineskin is stretched, as it is when the fermentation process generates carbon dioxide gas, the skin loses its integrity, and becomes subject to puncture. Eventually, natural fault lines, such as pores, in the skin, become naturally occurring weaknesses, ultimately 'springing leaks'. Thus, any time you were going to start a new batch of wine, it was essential that one invest in a new wineskin. The old skin had been stretched to its limit, and even if allowed to rest and re-assume something akin to its original size and shape, its structural integrity was forever compromised. Attempting to patch it up, far from repairing it, would have made the situation even worse. It's like attempting to use tape to patch up an old, brittle page in a collectible book... only to have the entire page disintegrate in your fingers. That's not what you want happening.

Jesus, in our reading, is making a point. As we'll hear throughout this week in our readings from Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest with a difference. Instead of being considered a High Priest on account of his Israelite lineage, he is connected with Melchizedek, the King of Salem, who was a priest of God back in the time of Abraham. Instead of making continual sacrifices, day in and day out, year in and year out, for all time to cover the sins of the people, he makes a singular and unique sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. 

Thus, it becomes necessary to do away with the old... for the old wineskin, which represents the Law, has already been stretched to its max, for the law had one overriding purpose, as summarized by Paul in Galatians 3:19:
"[The Law] was given alongside the promise to show people their sins."
But, as Paul goes on to say (in the very same verse),
"the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised."
In other words, attempting to use the Law, as handed down through Moses to the people of Israel had, through the Incarnation of Christ Jesus, become an ineffective means of containing the truth, as God wished it to be revealed. A new High Priest was on the horizon, and with him, a new rite... a new way of intersecting with God.

The concept is also an apt one to incorporate into our own personal spiritual lives. Sometimes, our prayer life becomes stale; the way we intersect with liturgy becomes tedious. Sometimes what we bring to the table at a given moment isn't meant to stretch or expand any further. Sometimes, we need new perspectives, different disciplines, and fresh motivations to move us forward in our faith walk. This does not mean that we need to cease reading Scripture, or praying, or attending Liturgy, or receiving the Sacraments. It does mean that, from time to time, as we grow, as we mature, we will need to vary our approach, our receptivity, to what God uses to strengthen and develop our spiritual lives... before we spring leaks, or before the structure disintegrates altogether.

You see, friends, faith isn't a static thing... it is dynamic. It grows, develops, deepens... it to questions, cries out for understanding, and yes, can at times experience despair. On the journey, some wineskins are going to get broken... and we're going to have to replace them. Sometimes, it can be hard... we get attached to our favorite wineskins, just like we do a great pair of shoes. But, just as wearing shoes beyond a certain point can actually damage your feet (and more!), so too does carrying a compromised wineskin.

So go ahead, toss out those broken wineskins... you never know just how amazing the vintage will be from the new one you find to accompany what the Spirit is pouring into your heart as your faith continues to grow.


That the leaders of the Church
may follow the example of the Great High Priest,
shepherding the people committed to their care
with humility and obedience to God;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those considering vocations
to the priesthood and religious life
would do so out of a deep sense of God's calling,
and a heartfelt desire to serve;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are struggling with their faith lives
may be given the courage to embrace new ways of connecting with God
that are in keeping with their personal growth, challenges, and needs;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are fearful of leaving behind old ways of thinking
and old methods of reaching out to God
may be moved by the gentle grace of the Spirit
to recognize the opportunities
to deepen their connection with the Divine;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the families of those who are coping with loss at the hands of violence,
be it ideological terrorism
or random acts of hatred,
may find, in Christ Jesus,
a ready companion on their journey of tears;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs and intentions of our hearts
may be heard and ministered with mercy and with love...
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.