21 January, 2013. (Monday of Week 2 in Ordinary Time)
Hbr 5:1ff. Jesus is our perfect Priest, and the source of eternal salvation for all.
Mk 2:18ff. While the bridegroom is present, don’t put new wine into old wine skins.
First Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you;” as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: Mark 2:18-22
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 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 unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Theology and Common Sense
Jesus is contrasted to the high priests of the old covenant, who first had to make sin offerings for themselves and then for those of the people. Earlier in the same epistle (Hebrews) the author noted how Jesus can sympathize with our weakness because he was “tempted in every way that we are, yet without sinning.” Rather than trying to reflect theologically about the interaction between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, it may be more fruitful to look at today’s Gospel and then from that vantage point return to this issue.
When accused by some hard-line traditionalists that his disciples do not fast, Our Lord does not get trapped into debate about the purpose of fasting and its tradition in the Scriptures, but reaches for a common-sense parallel when he asks: “What normal person calls for fasting and mourning, so long as the bride and bridegroom are celebrating their marriage?” He then moves the conversation up to another level: New times call for new responses, and you cannot resolve every issue just by appeal to tradition. For this insight too, he draws examples from everyday life: Experience has taught winemakers not to put unfermented wine into old wineskins, or the old, shrunken skins will burst. And one who cares for the family garments will not sew a new piece of leather on an older, shrunken piece, for the new patch will shrink and make a larger hole. His appeal to common sense has a levelling effect: everyone can share in the discussion. Sometimes an unlearned person, untrammeled by layers of tradition, will more quickly find an honest, viable answer to a new issue. The example of Jesus seems to say that unless our theology can stand the test of common sense and blend with the accumulated insights of people today, that theology is suspect. How can it be it a valid theology, or truly God’s word, if it does not fit the religious sense of God’s people?
And so, back to the letter to the Hebrews. Our common-sense theology is consoled to find our Saviour, Jesus, “learning obedience” from what he suffered. It is so helpful to experience the close presence of Jesus within our own experience of weakness and temptation. “People who are healthy do not need a doctor; but sick people do,” he said, and then added, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous,” (Mk 2:17.) Perhaps today’s Scriptures will help us be humble in our theology and persistent in our common sense.