The Wine Skins Necessary to Receive God’s Mercy, Second Monday (II), January 18, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Christian Unity
January 18, 2016
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: 

  • Today’s Gospel helps us to appreciate two very important realities about God’s Mercy in this extraordinary Jubilee Year.
  • The first is the joy that is supposed to accompany the presence of the Bridegroom. The reason why Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting was because he was with them and therefore it was meant to be a time of celebration. 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. When we have experienced God’s mercy and the reality of reconciliation, we are to be filled with the joy of God whose greatest joy, Pope Francis insists, is forgiving us.
  • The second thing we learn is about our receptivity for this mercy and joy. Jesus describes that the Gospel of God’s mercy is 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 forgiving love. It is not something that can fit into previous categories. This new wineskin involves first a recognition we need it, a longing for it and a cooperation with it, letting it “ferment” and expand within us and then allowing that wine of mercy to pour out from us to alleviate others’ wounds.
  • In today’s first reading, we see a lack of such receptivity. 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.
  • There are basically two categories of sins. One is a sin of weakness, in which we want to do the right thing and fail. These are able to be forgiven when the person turns to the Lord who is patient, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. The second one is a sin of calculation, in which one deliberately determines and chooses to do something contrary to what the Lord has asked. This person can be forgiven only when the person humbles himself to recognize that he has sinned, only when the person has given up his “divination” and “idolatry” of himself and his will. Saul was unable to receive God’s mercy because he pretended as if he didn’t need it. He pretended as if he knew better how to serve the Lord than the Lord knew. And sometimes we can be as proud, receiving the Lord’s commands according to our own categories, according to our own wineskins, rather than according to the new skins the Lord wishes to give us.
  • This is important for us to grasp as we begin today the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. Jesus prayed multiple times during the Last Supper for us to be one as the persons of the Trinity are in communion. Do we share that will, or do we place our own above it? What brings about disunity in the Church or anywhere is sin, and it’s mercy that will bring us to union, but we have to recognize our need for it, ask for it, and share it readily with others when they ask of our forgiveness. One of the great obstacles to Christian unity today is the stubborn resistance to recognize our need for mercy and to align ourselves with God’s will. On the one hand, we can see it in those communities, like Episcopalians in the United States, that want to persevere, as we saw last week, in blessing same-sex marriages, even though that’s totally contrary to God’s revelation. There can be no unity when people give into that type of sin, idolatry and divination. On the other hand, there can be Catholics who fail to grasp how certain sins in the past on the part of the Church gave a certain justification for separation, for the distrust of many of the Orthodox, for the moral purification that drove many of the Protestants. Just like in a broken family there’s plenty of blame to go around for the lack of loving communion, so in the family of the Church. What’s key is that we all seek to obey the Lord’s prayer for unity and align our hearts to what Jesus himself was pouring out his heart to ask the Father on the night he was betrayed. The Lord desires mercy and obedience more than sacrifice. He desires our obedience to his will for unity and our mercy for those with whom we’re separated.
  • As we mark this Octave, those in consecrated life have such an important part to play, not just because of their prayers, but also their witness of communion built on mutual mercy. The community life of the consecrated is an important witness for the world of what the Lord wants within the entire family of the baptized. It’s an image of the early Church and the Church fully renewed. As we enter into the last two weeks of the Year of Consecrated Life we can ask the Lord that this witness can expand.
  • 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, Mercy incarnate, and to have our wineskins overflow with his mercy and love for 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.”