1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Would you ever consider cutting apart a section of a new jacket and using it as a patch on an old jacket? This seems slightly ridiculous. Or again, would you ever consider going to a wedding and not entering into the eating, celebrating, and rejoicing festivities?
In the gospel today we find certain religious leaders coming to ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast and do penance. Perhaps it is one of those situations that no matter what you do, there will always be
someone to criticize you. Jesus’ disciples don’t behave like the disciples of John the Baptist or the disciples of the Pharisees. This certainly implies that there is a code of behavior by which a "disciple" should follow. Jesus’ answer is quite remarkable. For he doesn’t pass judgment on the question directly. Rather, the examples he uses make his point without explicitly being judgmental. Who would go to a wedding banquet and fast? Why would you cut up a new jacket simply to patch your old jacket? If you’re making wine, why would you go to all that work simply to put it into a wine skin which is old and worn out, knowing that it would rupture before the wine ages? And lastly speaking of wine, why would you want to drink new wine that hasn’t aged properly?
All of these questions leave you with a light bulb going on that says, "Oh, that makes a lot of sense!" What Jesus is trying to do is to get people to think about their religious practices. The Pharisees believe they know the behavior for every practice. Yet for Jesus many of the Pharisaic practices simply are eaningless. Jesus allows the question to be asked and then answers it with another question thus heavily implying empty religious practices are meaningless.
I think today’s Gospel has huge implications for us as Catholics. For we frequently have a lot of behaviors we rarely think about. It’s easy to go through the motions because that is what we were taught. We spend a lot of time with the "shoulds". We make judgments on others simply based on their religious behaviors. We also make judgments on ourselves which are quite burdensome and can lead to negative energy. But Jesus’ strategy is geared toward illuminating those who want to understand. He never judges the person, nor does he comment on the quality of the question. Judgment is subject to those who refuse to reflect. Paul understands this as well as he speaks in the first reading, the letter to the Corinthians. "The Lord is the one to judge me, so stop passing judgment before the time of his return." He continues to speak of how the Lord will bring to light what is hidden. Perhaps today that bringing to light is an invitation to reflect on some of our religious practices and the meaning which they have. If this is the case, then we are left with these two specific questions. Are we attentive to what your religious behaviors are? And do we know why you do them?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff of Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.