Listen to or read a reflection on Matthew 9:14-17, for Saturday 4 July 2020.
Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’Matthew 9:14-17
I wonder what you make of today’s reading? It begins with Jesus being asked a straightforward question about fasting. Jesus, however, responds with three confusing word pictures. So often, in my experience, this passage is glossed over as something that is ‘just there’ in scripture, something to be skipped over until we move on to another more accessible part of the narrative.
In Jesus’ time, fasting was an essential practice within the Jewish faith. All of those fasts commemorated the many tragic things that had happened in Jewish history. John’s followers were devout Jews and, like the mainstream of their faith, they fasted because they were waiting for a new day to dawn. Jesus did not feel the need to dwell on past tragedies, and neither did he feel the need to mark a period of waiting. Jesus did not fast because the sun had already risen on that new day. The Pharisees lit candles to remind themselves of the light of earlier times; Jesus threw open the curtains to let in the light of the new day that had dawned in him and was already shining brightly on the world.
The three pictures in this reading illustrate this point admirably. Weddings and funerals cannot be combined. Jesus (the bridegroom) is in the world to celebrate. At such a great celebration there is no room for mourning and misery.
Then we are cautioned against just making do and paying lip service to the old ways. If we have an old coat that is in need of repair, we need a patch that is already seasoned. If not, the patch will react in a different way and a gaping whole will result where there should have been something that revels in new life.
Similarly, new wine needs new wine skins. Ignoring this necessity will result in an explosion that will waste the new wine. Similarly, if we follow the new ways that Jesus represents, we cannot do so under the guise of the old religious practices. We need to allow ourselves to be poured into new minds and bodies that have been shaped and crafted by Jesus.
Today’s reading is a real message for our times. For more than three months we have heard talk of the ‘new normal’. For many this phrase has become annoying and irritating. For those people, the ‘new’ normal needs to be a reinstitution of the old ways. But … that is not where we are, either as a nation or, indeed, as a world. Things have changed and, for once, we have no choice but to change with them.
At the recent Diocesan Clergy Conference one of the speakers asked this: Is 2020 the year we have been waiting for? We have often spoken of change, well here we are having to change … what are we going to do to make things better?
The same speaker went on to say: Things are not as they should be, nor are they as they will be. That is exactly the message Jesus is giving us in today’s reading.
May we find the courage to bathe in the new light that is shining all around us, in Jesus’ name.