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Friday, September 2, 2011

New Wineskins

“The old is good.” Lk 5:39
A couple of weeks ago about sixty of us gathered for our 50th high school reunion. Almost as soon as we arrived, we found ourselves talking about the “old days." Looking at old photographs, we remembered names we hadn't spoken in decades and reveled in what used to be.  It was fun, warming and satisfying, but I know it is not the way to live each day.  Sometimes when we older friars gather we forget that there are young men with us who have heard our stories a thousand times, and who, very frankly, are bored with us. Perhaps it is because we not just remembering the past, we seem to be stuck in it.

Jesus warns us about this in today’s gospel.  For some of his Jewish clansmen and family there is a resistance to the “new” word that Jesus is announcing.  Satisfied, or at least comfortable with what they know of God and God’s revelation to Israel, they do not want to hear anything that might suggest something was lacking in their own faith.  But Jesus insists that one can’t pour old wine into new wineskins, otherwise the wineskins will burst and all the wine will be lost.

Nevertheless, we need to be careful reading this text.  A subtle anti-Semitism can creep into our thinking with toxic results. Jesus is not rejecting the Old Law and his Jewish heritage. After all, he insists that “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Mt 5:18) Rather, Jesus is announcing that he is the hesed of God, the fullness of God’s conditional love for all; God’s loving kindness and mercy. And more to the point of this reflection, Jesus does not want us to be trapped in our understanding of him either. 

The old is good, we say, sometimes about our understanding of the Lord, our church, our catholic teaching.  While all of this might be true, we have also to ready ourselves for new insights, new interpretations and a new richness that comes like a gift to those who open themselves to the unconditional love of God. Every interpretation, every insight has one purpose, to put God at the center of our consciousness. As Jesus continually reminds us, his purpose on earth is to reveal his Father’s love for all. If that means he must die, so be it.  Death is a small price to pay for the salvation of the world.  While we don’t want to glorify suffering for suffering’s sake, sometimes suffering is the direct result of telling the truth. 

And the truth is this. Unless the world knows that Jesus is the Son of God who goes before us to prepare a place for us with his Father, his mission is a failure.  So too is ours.  Unless our lives, always ready to embrace whatever helps the world to know God more fully, reveal the fullness of God’s love, we fail in the mission Jesus handed on to us. Christ is given to us, not simply for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world.

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