The message of the prophet Amos has consistently been identified with the justice of a moral life, which is not supplanted by compensatory sacrifices or rituals. When that level of justice is achieved, then nature’s bounty is shared among the people of God. A moral life gives rise to a life blessed by God and shared among the people convened by God.
Matthew’s text today mirrors this theme by highlighting, in Jesus’ conversation with the disciples of John the Baptist, the necessity of a “right order,” a “moral order” in the people’s daily life. To make his point, Jesus reaches into the examples drawn from everyone’s common place experience. Fasting is a “penitential” act, it tries to make up for one’s wrong-doing or to build strength against sinful inclinations. Jesus points out that as long as his disciples are at his side, there is nothing penitential called for. When, however, the right order of their lives is disrupted by their turning from the Lord, fasting will certainly be appropriate, even necessary.
“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of un-shrunk cloth,” because the two are not compatible, the new still has to shrink, and the old will not support the tension of the shrinkage. No one ferments wine in an old wineskin, which has already done it’s duty, and would not be able to contain the fermentation activity a repeated time. No ritual or sacrifice can repair the tears in the cloth or the burst wineskin.
There is a right order for nature, and for the human family as well: both emanate from the same creator. As we go through the last months of this presidential campaign, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from these passages. The moral life and the natural order of a structured society are goods in themselves; they reflect the Maker in whom we believe; and they are the product of the efforts made by individuals to hold up the human person as a valued individual, while our political efforts drive us toward the kind of society in which every person has value.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.