Winds of Change – Saturday, 13th week in ordinary time – Mt 9:14-17
Chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of Matthew, focus on ten miracle narratives. Matthew, unlike Mark will brush over the elaborate details of the miracle but will always settle of the focus point; Jesus is the Son of God. But Matthew has also punctuated these two chapters with three calls to discipleship. The first was the ‘would be followers of Jesus’ then the ‘call of Matthew himself’ in verse nine onwards and finally in verse thirty five we have the teaching on the’ harvest being rich but the labourers being few’.
Today, we are in the second teaching on discipleship. Jesus has called Matthew and now he and his friends are feasting with Jesus much to the disapproval of the Pharisees. But these attacks must not be seen in isolation. Chapter nine sees three sets of people attacking Jesus. It begins with the scribes in verse three, then the Pharisees in verse eleven and now in our text of today we have the disciples of John the Baptist himself.
The last group comes across as a shocker! Why would the disciples of Jesus’ cousin themselves criticise Jesus? Let us hypothetically but rather safely put it down to sour grapes and a dwindling congregation. While we have sufficient evidence to show that the Baptists (followers of John) were certainly popular during Jesus’ lifetime, the fact that Jesus was drawing crowds could only mean that he was drawing crowds from their following.
So they join the Pharisees in taking on Jesus. Note the line of questioning, ‘why do your disciples not fast but we, the Pharisees and the disciples of John, fast?’ There are two things to observe here. First, they are not directly accusing Jesus but pointing fingers at his disciples. In short they are subtly stating that the disciples are ‘bad’ because the master is bad. Secondly, this is a case of ‘spiritual one up-manship’. In making this statement they are effectively telling Jesus, ‘we are spiritually better than you.’ That sounds like a lot of what continues today.
Jesus responds with not one but three examples to answer their claims. These are found in verses, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. Here is the point that Jesus was making. Jesus has come to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God. This Good news was also NEW NEWS and all things new are resisted at first. Jesus understands their reluctance to accept his new message but insists that this new message needs a new and open mind just as new wine needs new wineskins.
Is Jesus thus dismissing the Old Law and traditions? Absolutely not! Time and time again, and we read this in Chapter 5: 1, he has said he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil it. One of his examples in verse 16 helps us to understand his message better. Jesus says, “no one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak and a worse tear is made.
The Greek word for patch is pleroma also translated as fullness and the Greek word for tear is schima from where you get the word schism. What Jesus is saying is that his message (the patch) is the fullness. The old coat is good but to take that and stitch a patch (new message of Jesus) would cause a tear when the patch ‘pulls away’, causing a tear (schism) between the Jews and the Jewish Christians.
In verse seventeen he reverses the order. No one puts new wine (his teachings) into old wineskins (the Jewish Law and Prophets). His new message cannot be force fit into the traditional ways of thinking. But lest you being to think that Jesus is dismissing one for the other look carefully, he is not. He is holding and preserving both while calling for a new way of thinking a new and personal approach to God.
What is our takeaway? Many of us too want what is new to fit somehow into our old way of thinking. The fact is we are afraid of embracing the new, afraid we will lose what we have held on for so long. Faith requires an open mind; open enough for an ‘aggiornamento,’ new winds blowing through the Church.
Fr Warner D’Souza