Obedience is better than sacrifice
While respecting his traditions and history, Jesus definitely seemed to have a preference for the new over the old. His stories and teaching reveal this again and again.
But what Jesus came to bring into our world was not merely a new teaching or a just new image of God. He himself is a witness to a new moment in our evolution and his actions enfleshed a new experience God’s love. His truth is a dual revelation – a new truth about God yes, but also a new truth about us!
Jesus, through his own relationship with the Father, witnessed to new possibilities for all of us to live one’s life fully within God’s loving embrace.
This was good news. It was something new for his world (and for all time). Such a new truth could not be contained within old frameworks, old attitudes or old actions and rituals. Thus in today’s gospel he speaks of new wine and new patches of cloth not being wasted by trying to place them within old parameters. No! New wine requires a new wine skin and unshrunken cloth needs to be sown only onto a new coat.
What Jesus teaches us about our tendencies is so, so, true! We all have some kind of ‘default’ setting” – a way of acting, speaking, thinking and being that we are comfortable with and take for granted. From time to time a learning experience – a challenge from a partner or colleague or an honest face to face moment where a close friend tells us “home truths” that others fear to say – may help us to move to a new understanding and even a new way of acting. But if we are not careful, vigilant and aware, we soon enough slip back into the old ways of acting, thinking and speaking. This cycle can repeat itself again and again all throughout life.
But what Jesus challenges us to is exactly the opposite of this pattern. Thus to embrace all of the new vision – the good news – that he offers, we need to be renewed. We are invited constantly to open our hearts, to listen, to be converted and to make ourselves ready so that we can receive and respond to all that is new and that we are offered in Jesus.
For Jesus, relationship is to be preferred to ritual, and the celebration of life is to be preferred to a sombre seriousness that reduces everything to obligation and expectation.
Let us practice listening for the word of God addressed to us today (and each day). Let us practice an awareness, a readiness, a listening stance that makes us receptive to the ‘ever new’ message of God that we know is constantly offered and addressed to us. But let us also practice our responses to that same message – let us be ready and willing to move beyond tired old responses and familiar patterns of behaviour so that we can truly embrace the ‘new’ that offers us the chance to also be renewed!
New wine? Then bring out new wineskins! New cloth? Then fasten on to it only pre-shrunken patches.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.