Friday, September 4, 2009

New Wine In Fresh Wineskins

Today’s First Reading (Colossians 1:15-20), is a paean, a song written by Paul in praise of Christ Jesus. No one has ever seen the Father (cf. John 1:18), because God is a pure spirit, who does not have a physical body. Jesus is at once the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally begotten of the Father, and the Son of Mary, born in human form and flesh at the moment of the Incarnation.

Christ existed long before he had a physical body. All things in heaven and on earth were created through him. He also cooperated with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the creation of everything that is not physical, but spiritual: the choirs of angels, archangels, principalities and powers were brought into being by the Word of God, who is Christ Jesus. Further, it is in Christ that all creation holds together.

Paul goes on to show that Christ Jesus is the head of the Church, which is his mystical body. The word “church” translates the Greek word “ekklesia” which literally means “assembly”. It does not refer to the building, but to the people who assemble in that building for worship.

In the next verse, Paul calls Christ Jesus “the first born from the dead”. On Good Friday, He died on the cross; but he did not remain dead, and on the morning of the third day, he rose from the dead. In the bible, both New and Old Testament, we read about people who died, and came to life again (for example 2 Kings 4:32-27; John 11:38-44); but all of them died again. Christ will never die again. After his resurrection from the dead, his human body left this world and rose into the heavens. Yet he is not alive only in the eternal kingdom of the Father, but remains alive here, in a new body, which is the Church. The Church was born when Christ came to life again after his crucifixion and death. Paul reminds us that we are called to eternal life through Christ, and, please God, we will receive a new and glorified body when we pass from this world to the next.

Christ died on the cross. He did not stay dead but he became alive again. We read about some people in the Bible who died. Then they became alive (for example 2 Kings 4:32-37; John 11:38-44). But all those people died again. Christ will never die again. He became permanently alive first, before anyone else did. He has a new body. The church began when Christ became alive again. And he has the most important rank in the church. In 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 35-58, Paul tells us that we will become permanently alive because of Christ; our bodies will be glorified as is his own body. This is the wondrous gift Jesus has gained for us through his death and resurrection.

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In today’s gospel (Luke 5:33-39), the Teachers of the Law pose a question to Jesus : “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and offer prayers constantly, and the disciples of the Pharisees do likewise; but your disciples never refrain from eating and drinking.” Jesus answers them in two ways. First he asks a question: Should the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? When the bridegroom is gone, there will be time enough for fasting.” Then he gives an example: No one puts new wine into old wine skins. New wine must be put into fresh skins.”

An explanation is in order, since most of us are accustomed to seeing wine stored in bottles, not in wineskins. A wineskin is a leather pouch that looks like the bellows of a bagpipe, with a drinking spout attached to the end. When new wine is place in a skin, it continues to ferment, producing carbon dioxide gas. If new wine is poured into an old, dry wineskin, the skin will burst, and the wine will be lost. Aged wine, on the other hand, will not produce the gas, and it can be put into older wineskins without the risk of bursting the skin and losing the wine.

The message here is clear: Don’t let your mind become like an old wineskin – withered and rigid. Make sure it stays soft and flexible. Living our faith makes great demands on us throughout our lives. We are called to live not for power and wealth in this world, but for God. We are asked to set aside selfish goals and to place ourselves at the service of our sisters and brothers in God’s love. We are invited to empty ourselves of the desire for earthly power and wealth, and to imitate the self-emptying poverty of Christ. And, beyond that, we are asked to be willing to lay down our very lives for our brothers and sisters and – still a greater challenge – to love our enemies as we want God to love us.

This was a new way of living – it was new wine, requiring a new spirit. Cyril of Alexandria wrote: “Those who live according to the old way cannot live by the structures of Christ…. The Lord shows this by saying that a tattered patch cannot be put upon a new garment, nor can old skins hold new wine….Those who adhere to the old way… have no share in the new order of things in Christ. In him all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17).”

The world, even in the early days of the Church, was weary of the old ways of pride and tyranny. It has even more reason to be tired of them now. That the Gospel still appears new and revolutionary is evidence that we haven't moved very far. The Gospel will always be Good News to us.

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