Friday, July 03, 2009

Fresh Wineskins

July 4, 2009

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“May God give to you of the dew of the heavens and of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations pay you homage; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.” Genesis 27:27-29

“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:1-5a


The notes to the New American Bible for this passage from Matthew point out that this and other parables in the Good News address “the unsuitability of attempting to combine the old and the new.” In so many ways, Jesus’ teaching did not patch up Judaism, nor can the Good News be contained within the limits of Mosaic Law. Jesus goes beyond Mosaic Law and crafts something entirely new out of the old.

In the same way, there is nothing suitable about Jacob’s behavior in the reading from Genesis. He tried to disguise himself as his brother in order to curry favor with his blind father. Obtaining a blessing under such false pretenses is dishonest and does not build a proper relationship with the Abba who knows everything. Jacob’s behavior does not even show respect for Mosaic law – the law which will be replaced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Esau also gave up his birthright as firstborn in exchange for a meal to fulfill his daily desires. So, his behavior also is nothing exemplary. Despite the behavior of the sons, the generous loving father shines through.

Instead of recounting the story of Jacob and Esau, Jesus retold the story of Israel with the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus makes all things new. In the new wineskin, the back story of jealousy and sibling rivalry is still seen in the older brother’s anger at the Father who forgave the younger son for running away. However, the Father overcomes the sibling rivalry and rival for inheritance by dividing his wealth (his love) among both sons. Instead of only one son getting a blessing, the son who stays has constant access to the Father’s love and the son who returns is restored to the Father’s love.

Jesus was the new wineskin of salvation history. He constantly looked for new ways to open the eyes of his followers with symbolism as well as in parables so that people would reflect the newness in the ways that they behaved.


How do we find new ways to look at our past, present and future? One way I like to open my eyes is to constantly look for new perspectives from people around us. I find that Washington, DC Catholic poet-activist-writer Rose Berger, is someone whose writing constantly challenges me to open my eyes to new ways to look at our surroundings.

Just like Jesus’ stories intended to have his audiences revisit the way they looked at things old and new, Rose Berger’s perspective also has that affect on me. Check out her view of the scene at her local gas station in this column from last fall.

Open your eyes today to a new way of viewing the ordinary and obvious on this the 233rd anniversary of replacing an old form of government with a new wineskin. Happy Independence Day.