For many of us here in the United States, the Fourth of July is filled with picnics and parades, family and fireworks. These are festive times we set aside outside of the regular work schedule.
Yesterday, we as a nation celebrated our 238th birthday. The festival time still continues throughout this weekend.
The readings given to us this day certainly have a festive flavor. Amos, in the first reading, was a simple shepherd. His strong voice denounced the hollow prosperity of the northern kingdom.
Amos is diligent in delivering the message of doom upon northern Israel. Yet the first reading is the conclusion of the book of Amos.
Rather than messages of destruction, Amos concludes with God’s promise of fulfillment. It speaks of planting vineyards and drinking wine. He reintroduces us to a God who pours out in abundance. "The juice of the grapes shall drip down the mountains and all of the hills shall run with it."
Today’s gospel links with this abundance. Not only do we find this story in Matthew’s gospel but it exists also in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. In all three instances it is always connected with the image of the wedding banquet. Jesus purposefully told parables of wedding banquets to convey the truths of his father. Today, he speaks convincingly about old cloaks and old wineskins. They are no longer useful items. The old garment is not worth patching with new cloth the old wineskins cannot hold new wine. Implicitly, the old world’s age has run out; it is compared to the old garment or old wineskins.
Symbolically, the wine is the symbol of the new age; in the pouring out of the abundance of the wine Jesus reveals himself as the one who brings the time of salvation. Similarly, the wedding is a symbol of the day of salvation, as the language of the apocalypse bears witness, "the marriage of the Lamb is come." The day is come, the wedding songs resound. Here is no place for morning. This is the time for the bridal festivals, why then should my disciples fast? For the people in first century Christianity, the old age has vanished and a new age has arrived!
In church terminology we refer to the end times as the eschaton.
About 100 years ago a term "realized eschatology" was introduced into theological circles. To realize that these are the end times is to see that the kingdom is now. It’s not about something that might happen to us after we die. Now is the kingdom, now is the day! And when we take this seriously we change the focus and direction of our lives. Praying about Jesus words today helps convict us that Jesus himself wants us to realize that with his presence there is a new world. See, I make all things new (Rev 21:5).
While we continue our festivities on this Fourth of July weekend, perhaps there is a similarity between the religious time and the national holiday. Much like the Fourth of July reminds us we no longer live under British rule, so too, realized eschatology reminds us that the kingdom of God is here in our midst today. What difference does that make for you?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.