|8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hosea 2:15-17, 21-22
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
So as to be more available to the grace of the readings, we might imagine Jesus and his disciples secretly snitching food from a table prepared for a wedding reception. He fills his pockets as well and some people around him raise their eyebrows and question him about their not waiting for the proper time. While giving them his usual parablistic answer, they notice his picking at a thread-thin patch on his tunic and then picks up an old relic of a leather wineskin. His listeners and watchers know that he is going to teach them something about patches and wineskins and they seem hesitant about whether they want to learn what he will be teaching or not.
We will begin the Lenten fast and prayers this coming Wednesday with our being reminded of our call to return to God’s loving ways. Jesus is challenged in today’s Gospel about his disciples’ not fasting. Jesus is always the “invitation” to life. Fasting is a sign of sadness and Jesus presents himself as “new wine,” new life.
We can prepare for the liturgy of today by preparing for Lent. The invitation still remains to live more freely with our responses to life and the Lord of Life. Jesus is offering us something new; freedom from old guilt, old ways of looking at God and looking at ourselves.
Hosea pictures the once-angry, often-violated husband as a loving forgiving spouse who will live out his forgiveness by speaking to his wife’s heart. Lent is the time for being drawn out into certain forms of emptiness or deserts. We can pray these days to want to be lured to where we can hear this loving God speak over the walls of our defensive shame, to the tender places where we long softly for intimacy. We can pray for new Easter garments which can receive the new patches of a constantly renewing, but always faithful God. We can pray to be open to receiving newer and larger hearts and minds and spirits to contain reverently all his new revelations of mind-boggling love.
If you were to read Cinderella beginning only from the prince slipping the glass shoe onto her foot, you would have missed what a turn around the event was. You would enjoy the story more by reading how terrible her three sisters were to her and how she wasn’t invited to the big dance.
The same is true for our reading profitably today’s First Reading. What we do not hear is the entire first chapter in which God denounces Israel as a most unfaithful wife. Hosea is sent to marry a prostitute and begets three children, all of whom possess names of disfavor and rejection. God loved Israel, but she had turned to adultery with the gods of neighboring tribes and countries. God intends to have nothing to do with the whore Israel.
What we do hear from this second chapter is God’s love overcoming the anger and so God’s desire to allure her, court her and bring her back to be the beloved bride once more. In Israel’s early years of being God’s well-loved nation. Instead of names of judgement and condemnation, there will be a marriage in mercy, justice, love, fidelity and knowledge of God. God just can not give up on us for long.
John the Baptist and the Pharisees had their disciples as did Jesus. Those of Jesus followed his ways which included not observing certain religious and cultic traditions and practices. Elsewhere in the Gospels we see Jesus doing certain activities such as healing, picking corn and the like all on the Sabbath, which were forbidden. In today’s Gospel Jesus is asked why he and his disciples do not fast as is the custom for those who observe the laws and religious ways of life.
The use of marriage as a symbol for God’s fidelity is a biblical form. Jesus builds upon this marriage experience to announce that he is the bridegroom and as such he intends to redefine what his marriage will bring that is new. The new wine and the old cloak are indications that Jesus uses to show that more than the customary fasting is being challenged and replaced.
The old cloak and wineskin are compared to the Jewish relationship which God had initiated with the covenant with Moses on Mount Sion. Jesus presents himself, not as a replacement or cancellation of that covenantal relationship, but as a continuation or intensification of God’s fidelity. The wineskin is new, but still a wineskin and the wine is new, but still wine. Jesus does not replace the old, but pours new life into the relationship which God desires for all. Jesus will continue pouring this new life out as the final covenantal revelation even to his pouring out his blood on the cross. This is so very new, but at the same time, nothing new. God so loves and has loved this world as not to give up on us, but give to us again and again new ways of experiencing his old, ancient marital love for us.
My father had a bit of an Irish temper which would occasionally express itself in sending me to my bedroom. It seemed this banishment was to be a permanent exile and I would never be allowed back out in the family flow. Inevitably my judge and warden would come to my room within five minutes, enter and ask me if I had read the latest article from Sports Illustrated. I knew this was his way of saying he was sorry, he missed having me around, and could we read the article together?
It takes two to dance the steps of reunion. It is a bit awkward to accept release, forgiveness, and being so loved. We children never knew if he did this of his own or if my mother gave him “the eye.” He loved us all and each time it was a new, but old thing. His love for us had to punish, correct, discipline, but that same love melted with the sense of separation. Always the same pattern, but each time it was excitingly new.
This Gospel is less about fasting and more about Jesus’ expressing God’s ancient love in new ways. For us it is a Gospel about our preparing to put on the new Easter garments of mercy, justice, love, fidelity and knowledge of the Lord. Are our hearts large enough and new enough to receive the ancient love of God in always-new ways? Jesus is the “bridegroom” and we are his disciples who rejoice in his presence, now resurrected.
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