The New Wineskins Needed to Fast and Obey with Christ, 2nd Monday (II), January 15, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
January 15, 2018
1 Sam 15:16-23, Ps 50, Mk 2:18-22

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As we continue the shift from Christmastide to Ordinary Time, we focus on living with God-with-us in the present. His presence is supposed to change things. Today he helps us to look at our approach to the way we respond to the will and law of God differently because of his presence, specifically with regard to fasting and to obedience.
  • Christ’s presence is meant to change everything. Just as the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary, “Rejoice, the Lord is with you,” so our first and fundamental reaction to the continuous presence of the incarnate Lord in our lives needs to be joy. That’s what Jesus stresses above all in today’s Gospel.  The reason why Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting was because Jesus the Bridegroom was with them and therefore it was meant to be a time of celebration. No one fast at a wedding, but instead they feast, and our first reaction to God must be to feast because of him. In the Old Covenant, people fasted for three reasons: first, in penance for their sins; second, in supplication for an intention, praying with their body; third, basically out of routine because it’s in the law without much attention to the why behind what they were doing. Jesus says ultimately that we are to fast in order to be with him, in order to respond to his fast to be with us. Fasting, he says, takes place when he’s not with us, when he would be forcibly ripped away from us during his Passion, but also when we separate ourselves from him through sin.
  • In order to fast in this way, to relate to him in this way, we have to recognize that he didn’t come to “tweak” the Old Covenant. He came to give our relationship with God a new foundation, so that we might build ourselves not on the “law” as seen as something apart from ourselves and him, but on him who is the merciful legislator. Jesus describes that the Gospel as a new patch that cannot be sewn onto the holes of an old cloak. Something new is needed. We need new wineskins to receive the new wine of his presence and mercy. It is not something that can fit into previous categories. It’s ever new. Our fasting needs to be done with these new wineskins, given by the Holy Spirit, which refer ultimately to our union with him. God gives us himself so that we can receive better all that he gives.
  • It likewise refers to the way that we relate to him in obedience, which is something we see alluded to in the first reading. Saul had been anointed by Samuel king of Israel and had been sent out to battle the Amalekites, with the instructions to put under a ban and destroy what was conquered, both the Amalekites as well as “oxen and sheep, camels and asses.” The point was to train the Israelites not to seek to profit personally from fighting for the Lord. But Saul and the Israelites disobeyed. They spared “Agag, king of Amalek … and the best of the fat sheep and oxen, and the lambs. They refused to carry out the doom on anything that was worthwhile, dooming only what was worthless and of no account.” So God sent Samuel to Saul to ask, “Why have you disobeyed the Lord? You have pounced on the spoil.” Saul’s response was not to ask for God’s mercy. His response to was proudly to defend himself and then to lie. “I did indeed obey the Lord and fulfill the mission on which the Lord sent me,” Saul said. “From the spoil the men took sheep and oxen, the best of what had been banned, to sacrifice to the Lord their God in Gilgal.” Not only was that not what God had explicitly commanded, but it was a total fabrication. They had kept the sheep and oxen for themselves. He was adding sin to sin. Rather than opening to God’s mercy, he was pretending as if he wouldn’t need it, lying directly to the Lord’s messenger. Samuel clarified for him that “obedience is better than sacrifice and submitting than the fat of rams.” He called Saul’s rebellion “a sin like divination” and his presumption like “the crime of idolatry.” He had made his own will a God and by his disobedience he was invoking some other God than the one who had commanded him to put everything under the ban. And Samuel concluded by saying, “Because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” When we hear that, it sounds like a punishment, but it’s not really a penalty. It’s rather a factual omission that if one rejects the Lord, one cannot receive his help as a ruler. One doesn’t have the wineskins to receive the wine of his assistance if one is simply going to do his own will rather than the Lord’s.
  • In the new dispensation, our obedience is meant to be done together with Christ, who came into the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews indicates, to do the Father’s will, and was obedient to death, death on the Cross. He wants to join us to him in saying to the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” This is the new wineskin of our obedience, not doing our “own thing,” not second guessing what God says, not changing his commands to suit our preferences, but uniting ourselves to the way Jesus listens to the the Father and puts into action what he says. This type of obedience is worth more than all other sacrifices, because it is the sacrifice of one’s own will as a beautiful and pleasing offering to God the Father with Jesus.
  • Today as we celebrate this Mass, we can recall that Jesus seeks to give us the wineskins to receive what he is pouring into us today. We rejoice that the Bridegroom comes to be with us each day, to fill us with himself, and to have our wineskins overflow with his joy and obedience and love for God and others. The upright see, as we prayed in the Psalm, the saving power of God. We ask the Lord to strengthen us to be more and more uprights, so that we will see his salvation and help others to stand up to embrace it as well.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 SM 15:16-23

Samuel said to Saul:
“Stop! Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
Saul replied, “Speak!”
Samuel then said: “Though little in your own esteem,
are you not leader of the tribes of Israel?
The LORD anointed you king of Israel and sent you on a mission, saying,
‘Go and put the sinful Amalekites under a ban of destruction.
Fight against them until you have exterminated them.’
Why then have you disobeyed the LORD?
You have pounced on the spoil, thus displeasing the LORD.”
Saul answered Samuel: “I did indeed obey the LORD
and fulfill the mission on which the LORD sent me.
I have brought back Agag, and I have destroyed Amalek under the ban.
But from the spoil the men took sheep and oxen,
the best of what had been banned,
to sacrifice to the LORD their God in Gilgal.”
But Samuel said:
“Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD?
Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission than the fat of rams.
For a sin like divination is rebellion,
and presumption is the crime of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the command of the LORD,
he, too, has rejected you as ruler.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 50:8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Responsorial Psalm HEB 4:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 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.”