EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Judge the Situation, Start Anew
First Reading ( Hos 2:16-17,21-22
): God's faithful, everlasting love
The Western saying, ‘new wine, old wineskin’ or the Chinese saying, ‘old herbs, new broth’, mean the same thing. Change must come from within, and not be just external or on the surface. The change must be sincere, internal and from the heart, a real conversion and transformation. If change is to be lasting, both the wine and bottle, the broth and herbs, must change simultaneously.
Jesus cited this saying during a discussion on fasting. Today's Gospel says that someone asked Jesus, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ ( Mk 2:18 ) 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.” (Mk 2:19-20)
Jesus didn't object to fasting. On the contrary, before he began his public life, he fasted and prayed for a long time to prepare his body, heart and spirit to fulfil his Father's mission and face the challenges and sufferings to come. Matthew’s Gospel says, “He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”( Mt 4:2 ) In the Old Testament, people fasted when they were suffering, at a time of a great calamity, or when asking God for mercy. For example, when the people of Nineveh realized that God intended to punish them severely, the whole city fasted in order to beg for God's mercy and forgiveness. (cf. The Book of Jonah). John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance. To prepare for the Messiah's coming, he himself fasted and also required his disciples to fast.
But Jesus is the source of all grace. He brought salvation and preached the ‘Good News.’ It would be a time of joy and the conquest of evil. People should be joyful, sing out in happy excitement, celebrate and give thanks.. In that kind of atmosphere it was inappropriate to fast. Today the Church encourages us to fast during the Lenten season especially. If this occurs during Lunar New Year time, we need not fast for the same reasons as above. Jesus is the bridegroom, the one who re-establishes the love relationship between God and humankind, and the disciples are the bridegroom's attendants. So it is not fitting to fast while the bridegroom is still present unless others persecute him. “When the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast on that day.”
When we are conducting our affairs, we should know how to respond appropriately, acting correctly according to each particular circumstance. Mencius thought there were different kinds of sages. For example, Pak Yi was a sage who was detached from politics and material possessions; Yi Wan was a sage who had a great sense of responsibility; the sage Liu Ha Wai was gentle and friendly. Confucius was “a sage who always reacted appropriately.” Among the sages, Confucius was the one who knew best what to do in each situation. “He always reacted appropriately: when time to leave quickly, he did so; when time to delay he delayed; when time to retire, he retired; when time to take up office he did so. (2) When Confucius knew he should leave, he would leave immediately; when he knew he should do something, he would continue doing it; when he knew it was time to retreat, he would do so at once; when he knew he should take up an official post, he did so. All in all, he did what should be done in each particular situation. Thus he would have nothing to be ashamed of before God or any human person.. He could also live his own life and live it to the full.
For the same reason Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for people and not vice versa. To achieve this appropriateness, we must have a clear understanding of life and be committed to life, to our ideals and our faith. We must pour in new wine and change to new wineskins. We must put on new clothing, not just patch up the old, and become a new person, not just change a few bad habits or perform a few good works.
Jesus asks us to enter fully into the spirit of the New Testament, accept all that he has taught us and respond to his call, submit and be converted entirely to him. For such a new age, we must develop new spirits, clothe ourselves anew, and become entirely new persons.
Sociology has a concept called “paradigm.” This concept tells us that each of us thinks not in single concepts, but that we think in ‘clusters’ of thoughts. Each one of us has a unique way of processing our thoughts. Those with similar processes easily link up together. Those with different processes of thought may have other reactions – discussion or arguments may even result in. further prejudice. Jesus and the Pharisees had different thought patterns, so the Pharisees found it difficult to understand Jesus’ words. Today people who belong to different parties or factions have difficulty understanding each other no matter how hard they try to communicate. At the beginning of the twentieth century Chinese people wanted to be ‘rooted’ in their own Chinese culture but bring forth Western ‘fruit,’ that is, Western technology. The endeavor did not succeed, because the ‘root’ and the ‘fruit’ must be of the same kind.
If we wish to attain complete conversion, then there must be an all-embracing
transformation that causes us to follow Jesus in all things. Wherever
he leads us we will go with him, whatever he asks, we will do. When
he calls, we must answer with our whole lives. We must be filled with
new wine and change to new wineskins.