1 Samuel 15:16-23
"Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?"
"New wine is poured into fresh wineskins."
Jesus is criticized because his disciples do not fast. It was a practice very close to the hearts of John’s disciples and the Pharisees. Fasting is indeed a very helpful spiritual practice: gets us to cut down on the amount or even the quality of our food. The emphasis doesn’t stop there. Rather it heightens our awareness that "less food" can help us to become aware that we have been gorging ourselves, pampering ourselves in many ways and failing to deal with reality.
Reality begins with me. Joy, happiness, laughter are good for all of us: weddings, birthdays, graduation, recuperation from sickness, coming to grips with addictions, etc., etc. Jesus makes a good point: "Can wedding guests fast while the bride and bridegroom are with them?" Rather, let the bigger picture of the wedding celebration teach us that the love that is seen in the couple is going to be the source of growth and strength. This growth will come through: "…for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in health and in sickness." Reality gives us the whole picture: better & worse, richer & poorer, health & sickness.
Each of us has experiences that put us in touch with challenging people, situations and things that reveal the worse, the poverty and sickness in our lives. It doesn’t help to use the old ways and means to deal with them. Jesus’ image of putting a new piece of cloth that hasn’t shrunk onto an old cloth is going to bring trouble: in the first wash the new cloth is going to shrink. That could tear or cause an unsightly crease. And then I love his example of pouring new wine into old wineskins. It isn’t going to work because the new wine will continue to ferment and burst the old wineskin. No, he says, you need to put new wine into new wineskins. The new wineskins will stretch. Wouldn’t it be a sight to see someone still wearing clothes that no longer fit. To refuse to accept this simple physical fact becomes a serious problem when I cling to childhood values that do not fit my life today.
So what I learn is that I must live for today. There have to be those joyfilled, happy, moments and times that help me to realize how fortunate and blessed I am. And there are also those painfilled, challenging, in-my-face moments that tell me that just cloaking them with externals isn’t going to work. It’s my attitude, my reactions, my willingness to accept the new insights, along with insights that I have refused to accept that are now calling for a new wineskin. The old wineskin isn’t going to work. The disciples of John and the Pharisees are holding on very tightly to the practice of fasting. Their wineskin is old. Their view of life, of holiness is stunted. They need to get a new wineskin that can stretch with the input that Jesus is offering them.
My faith and hope and love at this stage of my life are calling for me to let go of my childhood wineskins. They can’t stretch to receive the wonderful and challenging ways that my faith and hope and love are hoping to grow in this year of 2012.
Fr. Peter Berendt, CP, is on the staff of Holy Name Retreat Center, Houston, Texas.