NEW WINE IN NEW WINESKINS
This very well-known passage of Hebrews evokes the central place in our faith of the passion and glorification of Christ. Jewish priests had to offer first sacrifices for their own sins. Christ replaced the “I will not serve” with the service of obedience to the will of the Father.
You know from experience that change is always a problem to us. It calls us away from the security of our ingrained habits and our certainties and it forces us to go unfamiliar ways. That is why, as if by nature, we resist change. It is an inherent law of Christianity to be always open to renewal and conversion. The trouble is that the old and the new are usually intolerant of one another.
Unchanging and ever-new God, you want us to be your pilgrim people on the march with Jesus, your Son, toward a new future of justice and love. Do not allow us to be suffocated in being contented with old habits and sluggish ways. Help us to accept the pain of leaving the familiar behind us and open us to the challenge of the Gospel to become more like your Son who guides our faltering steps, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
1 Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my Son: this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4
R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.” R.
The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion: “Rule in the midst of your enemies.” R.
“Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendour; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.” R.
The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” R.
Alleluia: Hebrews 4:12
Alleluia, alleluia. The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Mark 2:18-22
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.”
Today’s readings highlight two aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry that did not follow the traditional pattern. The Letter to the Hebrews develops at some length the priesthood of Jesus. He stands now as the high priest interceding before God on our behalf. The difficulty with this idea lay in the fact that he was not a descendant of the priestly tribe of Levi, and he made no claim to priesthood in his earthly life. But Hebrews finds an interesting precedent. Genesis recounts the story of a pagan priest, Melchizedek, who makes a brief appearance as Abraham returns from battle and offers the patriarch some bread and wine (Gen 14:18-20).
Abraham then offers tithes to the priest. Since Abraham shows honour and respect to this otherwise unknown priest, the Letter to the Hebrews sees Melchizedek as a type of Christ and develops this typology along various lines.
Then there is the question of fasting. While Jesus himself is depicted as fasting at the start of his ministry, it does not receive prominent emphasis as a form of mortification. To his questioners in today’s Gospel, Jesus answers in terms of the wedding feast.
The age of the messiah was often seen as a festive time, like the time of a wedding. Fasting at such a time was seen as alien to its festive spirit. But the Gospel goes on to say that when the bridegroom is no longer present fasting will again be in order.
Today we designate the leader of the local congregation as a priest.
It is interesting to note that it is a term never used of any Christian ministry in the New Testament. The term is used exclusively of Christ, who is our sole mediator before God. Our local priests are sharers in that sole mediatorship of Jesus.
One heard much more about fasting in an earlier day than is the case in our time. It is spoken of more, not in the church, but in dietary classes, in gym halls during physical fitness sessions. Even devoutly religious people do not seem to accord it any real priority—if anything, in this era of materialistic consumerism, we seem to be eating more! But fasting still has its value in helping us curb our appetites. It does no harm to cut back on calories in atonement for sin, whether our own sins or those of others.
– For the Church, that the People of God and its leaders may follow the promptings of the creative Spirit, to speak to the people of today in the language of today, the ever-new message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we pray:
– For artists, poets and inventors, that they may reveal to us the splendor of creation and the riches of life beyond its apparent drabness, we pray:
– For our communities, that we may not be afraid of authentic change and draw from Christ the courage to start the renewal of the world and of the Church with the renewal of ourselves, we pray:
Prayer over the Gifts
Lord, our God, with bread and wine, we celebrate the covenant you renew with us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Make us indeed your new faithful people bound to you in an everlasting union of love. Renew our hearts; make us your new wine of hope and joy, that we may rebuild this earth today and march forward with your Son toward a new heaven, where you will be our God for ever. Amen!
Prayer after Communion
God of hope, you have given us Jesus, your Son, as our companion on the road for understanding the old familiar things with a new and young heart and for renewing ourselves and the world. Let him prod us on when we try to compromise by merely patching up the old here and there; let him curb our impatience when we try to rush people beyond their capacity for growth. Lead us ever forward through our trusted guide, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
Yes, it is not easy to change ourselves, our Church, our world. But life is growth. We have to grow up to the size and the stature of Christ. We have to become mature Christians in mature communities, with the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!