Thursday, September 01, 2016

New Clothes, New Wineskins, New Life in Christ

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)

And he also told them a parable…   “(N)o one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.  Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.  And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

O Lord, may my heart be filled with love for you, and may that love guide my thoughts, my words, and my actions.   May I be moved to share your love for me with those I encounter today.

A couple of years ago, I went to see the art exhibit Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea at the National Museum of Women in the ArtsI remember being entranced by a portrait of Mary holding her young son Jesus where both of them are laughing and having a good time together.   There ought to be more art like that.  I don’t think Jesus could have convinced his inner circle of twelve to leave jobs and families to follow him if he didn’t seem to really be enjoying what he was doing.  I picture Jesus kindly smiling at people who come to him for help or healing.  In the Gospels, we read about Jesus going to dinner at different people’s homes.  Jesus is a social being.  He enjoys these get-togethers.  Joy is part of life as Jesus experiences it.

The Pharisees take issue with this.  Why does Jesus laugh and party when their disciples and even those of John the Baptist are fasting and praying?  Shouldn’t religious people be solemn and serious?  Jesus says he won’t be on earth forever, so why shouldn’t his friends enjoy life and be happy while he is here.  After all, he is doing something new.  He’s painting a new picture of what it means to be faithful.  Forget the endless tallying of every minor infraction of the Law.  For example, does agonizing over the maximum weight lamp a person can move from one side of a room to the other on the Sabbath bring a person closer to God or positively affect how that person treats his brothers and sisters?  

Jesus’ ideas about faith are new in that they center on relationship – the relationship we have with God and the effect that has on our relationships with one another – rather than merely checking off a list of things to do or not do.  The Pharisees wanted nothing to do with this and neither do a lot of us.  It’s easier to have lists of do’s and don’ts than it is to love God with all our heart. Faith for Jesus begins as an affair of the heart.  When our hearts are full of love, we are joyful.  We smile.  We laugh.  The inner glow shows in our eyes.

Jesus tells two parables to illustrate how the old and the new don’t really mix.  A new piece of unshrunk cloth can never be placed on an old article of clothing.  At the first washing, it will shrink and tear holes in the garment.   Likewise, new wine shouldn’t be put in an old wineskin.  The new wine ferments and expands over time, and the old wineskin will eventually burst and the contents will be wasted.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is talking to people who have embraced the new life in Jesus.  He says they have become stewards of the “mysteries” of God.  I like to think of these mysteries as treasured truths that we are asked to share with our brothers and sisters. 

Both Paul’s words and Jesus’ parables challenge us to give up the old and embrace the new.  Lose the checklist approach to faith and examine the disposition of our hearts toward God and one another instead.  Forget the idea that religion is a private matter between God and us.  It isn’t.  Instead, live as caretakers of God’s mysteries, sharing them with those we encounter in our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  We reveal God’s treasures by our actions every bit as much as in what we say.

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