Sermon for 8 Epiphany, Year B
Based on Mk. 2:18-22
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Jesus brings joy"
The old and the new; fasting and feasting; weddings, old cloak and unshrunk cloth; wine and wineskins ~ so often in the teachings and ministry of Jesus we observe the holy and extraordinary in the everyday and ordinary. Jesus is able to employ common, practical, down-to-earth illustrations and experiences familiar to everyone, in order to reveal eternal truths. Today's gospel is no exception! It's a shining example of Christ's humanity meeting ours in such an insightful, profound way; touching our hearts and lives and drawing us closer to him.
Unfortunately, there have been many sermons preached on this gospel passage, which pit the old against the new. In most of these sermons, the old is depicted in a negative, inferior, derogatory manner; while the new is presented in a positive, superior, laudatory manner. Usually this approach ends with Jesus being opposed to the Old Testament and the Jewish faith. However, if one reads and studies this passage carefully, I don't believe that to be the case.
Commenting on this passage, William Loader challenges such an interpretation: "People did not throw away used clothes the way many of us do. They certainly did not throw away old wine ~ nor do we! So this is not an attack on the Old Testament or the faith of Israel, as if Jesus has come to replace it with 'Christianity'. The issue in the context is about how to interpret the tradition. In Jesus is new teaching with authority, as 1:27 tells us, a passage Mark is probably wanting us to recall here."
In responding to the question as to why Jesus' disciples didn't fast, like John's and the Pharisees; Jesus provides a very Jewish answer. First, he tells them that it is not proper; it is not the right time or place; to fast at a wedding celebration while the bride and bridegroom are together. Indeed, at that time, weddings were quite A Big Deal. Unlike weddings in our day, where we usually only celebrate for one day ~ at that time, the wedding celebrations would commonly last for one week. According to Jewish tradition, those celebrating a wedding were exempt from fasting. In fact, there is only one Required day of fasting a year specified in the Torah, the Day of Atonement. Those who desired to fast more often than on the Day of Atonement, were free to do so. However, it was understood as Voluntary Fasting ~ this is the type of fasting that some of the Pharisees observed twice a week. Eventually, fasting also came to be associated with repentance. The early Church adopted this association from Judaism.
Jesus, by speaking of celebrating the wedding feast while the bridegroom was present; is referring to himself and his followers. He is saying: "I'm here with you; celebrate with me; it's not a time to fast or repent; it's a time to sing, dance, laugh, and a be filled with joy.
The second part of Jesus' answer is also a very Jewish one. When he speaks of an old cloak and an unshrunk patch as well as new and old wine and wineskins; He's Not Saying That The Old Is Bad Or Inferior Or Must Be Left Or Destroyed. Rather, He's Employing The Torah Teaching Of Forbidden Mixtures; Some Things Should Not Be Mixed With Others. Jesus Says Here That One Is Not To Fix An Old Cloak With A New, Unshrunk Patch Because It Will Tear The Cloak Worse. Notice That Jesus Does Not Say That The Old Cloak Is Bad Or Should Be Discarded.
He Goes On To Say That The Proper Place To Store Old Wine Is In Old Wineskins And The Proper Place To Store New Wine Is In New Wineskins. Once Again, Notice That He Nowhere Says Here That The Old Wine And Wineskins Are Bad Or Should Be Destroyed.
What, then, are we to make of this all? How does this gospel speak to us and our situation today? Well, one of the key messages for us here, I believe, is this: That There Is A Proper Time And Place For The Old And For The New. Blessed Are You Who Are Able To Discern The Difference. More Than That: Blessed Are You To See And Share And Celebrate My Joy With Me And With Others. My Joy Is There For You Today ~ Everyday. Blessed Are You When You See And Share And Celebrate It In The Everyday Living Of Your Lives! Blessed Are You When You Find My Joy In The Ordinary; When You See The Holy In The Familiar. I Am The New Wine And My Gospel Is The New Wineskin, Come Celebrate My Joy With Me!
Ralph Neighbour wrote a book with the following title, The Seven Last Words Of The Church. In the book he identifies those seven last words as: "We never did it that way before." It's a tragedy when churches get so stuck by those seven words that they're prepared to die, rather than consider changes and live.
How much joy and celebration do we miss out on every day because we are too busy fasting when it would be more appropriate for us to be feasting? How much of life are we robbed of because we make a personal creed out of the seven words: "We never did it that way before?"
"Author Leo Buscaglia tells this story about his mother and their "misery dinner." It was the night after his father came home and said it looked as if he would have to go into bankruptcy because his partner had absconded with their firm's funds. His mother went out and sold some jewelry to buy food for a sumptuous feast. Other members of the family scolded her for it. But she told them that "the time for joy is now, when we need it most, not next week." Her courageous act rallied the family."
Our time for joy is now too, when we need it most, not next week. Live each day in Christ's joy, for we never know what tomorrow or the future holds. By living in Christ's joy Today, we shall have no regrets about missed opportunities. The challenge for us all is not to live in fear; not to be afraid of Christ's joy. Rather, to open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds to the joys of everyday life; to live our lives passionately; to bask in the abundance, awe and wonder of life ~ that's what Jesus offers to each one of us.
The time for celebrating is now. This is the wedding feast, it's time to celebrate the bridegroom's joy. Will you celebrate with him today? Will you also share this joy with others? For a sorrow shared is half the sorrow, while a joy shared is twice the joy.
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