Homily for the eighth Sunday of the year - Year B - Mk. 2:18-22
Father Daniel Meynen
"Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, 'Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?' And Jesus said to them, 'Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.
" 'No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.' "
"Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, 'Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?' And Jesus said to them, 'Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast."
Jesus is being subjected to some attacks by the scribes and the Pharisees. For they are disturbed by the manner in which Jesus has his disciples behave! Jesus does not ask that his disciples fast, contrary to John the Baptist, who recommends this penitential practice. Since the coming of the Son of God into the world, nothing is as it was before: we must change, we must convert ourselves! The New Covenant has come into the world: the Old must make way for it.
However, Jesus did not come to abolish the old Law, but to fulfill and perfect it (cf. Mt. 5:17). Concerning fasting, it would thus seem that Jesus simply wanted to change the order of things: the corporeal fast which the disciples of John the Baptist were required to practice is still required by Jesus, but in a different manner - that is, in an altogether spiritual way. Is this not what Saint Paul tells us in today's epistle: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Co. 3:6) ?
The new Law is not a Law of fasting, but rather a Law of nutrition! Who is Jesus? Who is he who descended from Heaven? Is he not the Bread of Life? Is he not the Bread of God, descending from heaven and giving life to the world? (cf. Jn. 6:33-35) Certainly, the New Covenant in Jesus invites us to nourish ourselves with the Word of God, the Word which vivifies and which gives us the strength and power to make us adoptive sons and daughters of God.
But while being a Law of nutrition, the new Law is also a Law of fasting, but a Law of spiritual fasting. Indeed, let us remember something Jesus did before multiplying the loaves, or, better yet, before instituting the Eucharistic Memorial of his Passion and Resurrection. The action in question is that of the fraction of the bread: Jesus broke the bread. What this really signifies is that, to be vivified by the Bread of God, one must truly renounce it, as well as ourselves, in following Jesus the Savior. This renouncement is wholly spiritual: it is the spiritual fast which we must undergo to perfect, in the New Covenant, the old Law which is our foundation. Christian Tradition is based and founded on Jewish Tradition: the act of the breaking of the bread which is done today at each Eucharistic celebration is a Jewish practice which predates Christianity. As Saint Paul says: "Remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you." (Rm. 11:18)
"The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day."
Undoubtedly, this is a prophecy which speaks of the future of the Church. Many of the prophecies concerning the first coming of Christ into the world can also apply to his second coming. The primary meaning of Jesus' words concerns the days during which the Savior lay in the tomb. He was dead, and had in fact been taken away from his disciples, who could then fast in tears and grief. The second meaning, derived from the first, refers to a future time when the Church herself - the Body of Christ - will be as if she were dead. It will not be the end of the life of the Church: it will be but a passage towards her Resurrection and Ascension. Those who will live out this prophecy of the Lord will then be able to fast and pray as they await the Return of the Lord.
"No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins."
Jesus adds two practical examples in order to help his listeners understand all that he had just said to them. He insists on this point: the new Law is perfect and full, one must not wait for another Law to add anything else to it. Saint Paul wrote the following to the Galatians: "As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Ga. 1:9)
What is new in Jesus is complete and perfect. It is not a matter of adding a new piece of cloth to an old garment: the entire garment must be renewed as a whole. It is not a matter of putting new wine into old skins: both the contents and the container must be renewed at the same time. Indeed, every liquid takes on the form of its container: it is the new skins which give the new wine its form. The Covenant in Jesus is truly new in all its fullness!
The Most Blessed Virgin Mary is certainly she who has best understood the meaning of the words of Jesus. For it is in her that the Word was made flesh and that the New Covenant was conceived. Let us ask for her help and her prayers, to help us on the way to conversion and renewal, following Jesus!
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