6 July, 2013. Saturday of the Thirteenth Week
Gen 27:1ff. Rebecca uses the ruse of disguising Jacob, her favourite son, so that her blind husband, Isaac, is fooled into giving the first-born blessing to the younger son.
Matt 9:14ff. The disciples have no need to fast so long as Jesus, “the bridegroom,” is with them. Symbols of the changing times are the unshrunken cloth and new wine in old wineskins.
First Reading: Genesis 27:1-5, 15-29
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.” Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau.
Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” Then he said, “Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, “Ah, the smell of my so is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
Gospel: Matthew 9:14-17
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Things Old and New
Several times Matthew tells how Jesus himself remained with the old – with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), that he was not sent to foreigners, even to those who happened to show up in Palestine. Yet in the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), Mt repeats Jesus’ new vision that perfects and replaces the old law, “You have heard the commandment… but now I say to you…” The change from Judaism to the work to be now achieved is found in the conclusion of Matthew, “Full authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (28:18-19).
The new is introduced with “full authority” over “heaven and earth.” Even though ministering usually to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus had given strong indications that his work extended beyond Israel to something new. There was a striking difference between the disciples of Jesus and those of John the Baptist. One ought not to sew unshrunken cloth – originally, animal skins that have not been tanned and processed – on to old leather cloaks; the new will proceed to shrink, pull away and the rip will only get worse. Also, when animal skins are used to contain fermenting wine, new skins will stretch, while old skins will burst open and the wine will be lost. These examples from a thoroughly Jewish background point to a dramatic discontinuity with the past, in Jesus’ preaching and healing. What began on the outer edge now moves to the centre. There is to be rejoicing, an entirely new cloak rather than an old one with patches, new wineskins for the new wine.
The plan of salvation winds up and down, zigzags across mountains, draws a straight line crookedly across valleys. God’s ways with mankind are thoroughly human and earthly, yet the strength to proceed and the goal at the end are beyond the capacity of earth to provide. There are also the moments of joy and celebration, “How can the wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” asks Jesus, and then adds: “When the groom is taken away, then they will fast.”
Change provokes many types of reaction. But we should try to remain at peace, willing to adapt to whatever new circumstances God places us in. The ways of divine providence are surely leading towards a noble, final goal, but they pass through the vagaries human existence, welcome and unwelcome. We must always seek and pray to be worthy disciples of Jesus, letting him pour his new wine into new wineskins, and be as realistic as he was, in accepting change.