Busting Wineskins

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 — Week of Proper 10, Year One

Conrad Weiser, Witness to Peace and Reconciliation, 1760

To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office ( Book of Common Prayer, p. 974)

Psalms 38 (morning) 119:25-48 (evening)

1 Samuel 20:1-23

Acts 12:18-25

Mark 2:13-22

Jesus the stand-up comic. I can imagine the punch-line at the end of this reading from Mark being delivered by Jesus with some of the ironic quality of Jerry Seinfeld — Jesus, looking at the odd and quirky things of life, and bringing them into fresh view with the kind of gentle humor that creates a touch of insight and entertainment.

How funny it would be for someone to take some unshrunk cotton and carefully to sew it just right on an old cloak. The first time it gets wet and shrinks — rip.

Or and old, inflexible, leathery wine flask. Put some wine in there that is still alive, still active and fermenting. Eventually… splash. It will burst like slapstick.

The point is a powerful one. It’s like Einstein’s quote (if I remember correctly) — you can’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

Mark sets Jesus’ teaching-routine within a context that might have been comedic. Jesus has been befriending sinners and tax collectors. These are the people who deliberately choose not to observe the Torah. Jesus eats and drinks with them. They are soaking him in, breathing and expanding like new wine flasks filled with living new wine.

But the old ways are bothered. The Pharisees have been trying to teach the Torah observances to the people, helping them extend their faithfulness to the scripture into every part of their ordinary lives. There is a system. It is clear and written down. There is a process for interpreting difficult decisions. They know what is right and what is required to be righteous.

These sinners and tax collectors don’t follow the right way. They should be straightened out, not partied with.

Yet, the old wine didn’t work for these sinners and tax-collectors. The well-worn cloth didn’t fit. But something about Jesus’ new wine sparkled in their mouths. Their hearts opened to what Jesus was saying. They felt joy and newly born hope. God could be with them. They could experience love and acceptance. And from that motivation of love, they could live in a new way.

Where the law had been unsuccessful, love awakened new life.

All would be well if only the Pharisees could have seen the grace in the sinners’ response. “It’s not our way,” they might observe, “but look what good it is doing for them.” But their thoughts and hearts were a bit dry and leathery. They were too comfortable in their old clothes. This unshrunk cloth pulled and tore at their fabric. Sometimes that’s the way it is.

How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?

Five. One to change the bulb and four to talk about how good that old bulb was.

CHANGE THAT LIGHT BULB??!! My grandmother gave the church that light bulb!

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