It is as true today as it was during Jesus’s time that whatever the teacher’s followers do that gives offense, reflects adversely on the teacher either by omission or commission. This discord often kills whatever good is generated and sets people against ministers and ministers against people. In our gospel reading today Jesus comes to the defense of his disciples acting according to his commands and patterns.
Image by Brigitte Werner
By Ron Bruni
In today’s first reading taken from Genesis chapter 27 verses one through five and 15 through 29, we are told a tragic story, in which everyone losses. As you recall, Isaac was a legitimate son of Abraham and his wife Sarah and Isaac eventually married Rebecca. Rebecca had a set of twins with the first one named Esau meaning red because of his red hair. The second twin was named Jacob because he came out, grabbing his brother’s heel.
Jacob was an abbreviation of Jacob – EL meaning he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for deceptive behavior. In the book of Genesis, it speaks of the relationship between the fraternal twins Jacob and Esau in the story focuses on Esau’s loss of his birthright to Jacob and the conflict that ensued between the descendent nations because Jacob deceived their aged and blind father, Isaac to receive Esau’s birthright/blessing from Isaac.
During her pregnancy, Rebecca was bothered by the constant motion of her babies within the womb so she inquired of the Lord and He told her “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manners of people shall be separated from thy bowels, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people and the elder shall serve the younger”. In other words, God chose Jacob over Esau, so if only the participants had followed God’s word, they could have avoided the tragedy that ensued because of the conflicts between the two brothers.
Each of the main characters, Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, and Jacob, schemed to maneuver in human wisdom and energy, rejecting God’s word and wisdom. However, God still accomplishes his purpose. The tragedy was that each of the participants suffered because they insisted on working against God’s word and wisdom. The message drawn from this is that we should seek, through prayer, God’s plan for us and not be reckless in rushing into something in a rash manner. Perhaps a a simple prayer such as this: God help me trust you with my decisions and future. Let me lean on you with all my heart instead of relying on my own imperfect understanding. Give me clear guidance in my life. I ask for your help to direct my path. Sometimes the answer will come directly and quickly and other times it’ll come tangentially and seemingly out of nowhere but come it will in one form or another.
Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew chapter 9 verses 14 through 17. There is a similar passage in Mark in Luke’s gospel which is not surprising since the synoptic Gospels share approximately 40% of their content sometimes word for word. What is significant about this passage is that it is the first instance where an extensive breach with the existing Jewish religious usage is exposed. To put this in perspective, the interrogators here are John’s disciples who are assiduously fasting which all Jews during Jesus’ time used for any calamities, be it lack of rain or pestilence, etc. But in this case, it is because John is imprisoned, and they are very concerned for his safety.
In the following chapters, Matthew builds upon Jesus’s contrasting the old ways with the new reaching a peak in the sermon on the Mount in Matthews gospel in chapters 5 verses 17 through 18 where he says “You may have heard but I say to you . . . , Using this phrase as a preface for each of the several old interpretations of the law and reinterpreting them into their correct connotations. And then tells them, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law of the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter, or the smallest part of the letter will pass from the law until all things have taken place.” So, what he is doing is he is reinterpreting the law, or I should say, translating it from its Old Testament interpretations by the Jews into its true meaning unseen by the old testament Pharisees and scribes, but not doing away with it.
Fasting is supposed to lead us to delight in God and a dependency upon him. There may be a tendency however to boast about our obedience to religious observances such as fasting and to trust in them instead of Christ for our righteousness. The Pharisees loved to fast so that others would see them and think they were spiritual. Instead of denying recognition they were glorifying recognition by seeking the praise of men over their actions. Jesus specifically taught his disciples to fast in secret and said it would not be known to man but only to the Father in heaven. Again, in the Sermon on the Mount he says “When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do for, they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. When you fast put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting but only to the Father, who is unseen and your Father who sees what it is you have done in secret will reward you”.
It is as true today as it was during Jesus’s time that whatever the teacher’s followers do that gives offense, reflects adversely on the teacher either by omission or commission. This discord often kills whatever good is generated and sets people against ministers and ministers against people. In our gospel reading today Jesus comes to the defense of his disciples acting according to his commands and patterns. Jesus responded to the question by John’s followers by telling them that it was not a proper time for the duty of fasting for his disciples as he was still with them. So, He did not condemn the practice, he just exonerated his disciples’ actions.
Jesus then goes on to explain using three parable examples. Firstly, he asked the question: is mourning and fasting a proper place at a wedding when there should be celebration and happiness? He goes on to explain using himself as the bridegroom and says while I am with them it is a festive time, a season of rejoicing not mourning. But…. He alludes to a time when he will not be with them and there will be plenty of times for fasting and suffering; an allusion to the challenging times ahead for all the disciples as they proselytize Christ’s words to the rest of the world. The second parable example he uses with clothe.
In Jesus’s time, clothe was made whole by a process called fulling, a process of beating woven woolen clothe while wet to cause the opposing fibers to interlock and form a more homogeneous textile. However, if you sewed a piece of this type of clothe into a tear it would cause the rent to widen as the wet cloth contracted and dried. Finally, the third parable involved pouring new wine into old skins which stored the wine with the intimation that the fermentation of the new wine would cause the acid generated during the fermentation process to deteriorate the wineskins causing them to rupture. In all of these parables Jesus is trying to explain to them his message. And what is his message?
To paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 3 verse twenty-four where he says the old law is, as it were, a teacher of children, whereas the new law is a law of perfection since it is the law of charity. And Paul says in Colossians chapter 3 verse fourteen that the new law is a “bond of perfection”. And indeed, Jesus’ parables in this gospel reading and in His sermon on the Mount reflect what is often described as the “ethics of the kingdom,” and which He emphasizes “purity of the heart” and embodies the basic standard of Christian righteousness.
In the topsy-turvy times that we live today, things we formally took for granted are now questioned by a vocal minority. We should realize that those who faithfully follow the Lord Jesus and his teachings can expect his defense. It has become increasingly more difficult in modern society to do so, and it is no longer enough to give evidence of Jesus’s teachings and what we say or write, we must be the evidence in how we live. But, this should not be anything new because at our baptism we were consecrated to God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to share the threefold mission as a prophet, priest, and king; and what is the role of a prophet, not just to speak the truth in our everyday life to others but to live it.