Jesus teaches us a new way of living by using common sense examples. In today’s Gospel, Mark 2:18-22, Jesus says: “no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” Obvious, but we don’t always live that way.
I have a good friend whose oldest son, age twenty-five, is currently in a drug rehab center. This is his third in two years. Each time he has gone through the process, he has returned to the same environment. He has returned to live with his parents who want the best for him but are really enablers. He has returned to his old job that he does not like. More importantly, he has returned to his old set of friends some of whom are users and going nowhere in life. New wine is being poured into old wineskins and he is soon using again. His environment militates against sustained recover. What he needs to do this time is establish himself in a new, sober environment. This may mean relocating his place of residence, finding a new job and most of all forming a new circle of friends. Not easy!
Conversion followed up with disciplined changes in our behaviors is something that we all need to give attention to as we address the major issues of our lives. These issues may center around work; further education; personal relationships or one’s relationship with God; addictive behaviors; family issues or any number of challenges that enter into our lives.
Conversion is like getting new wine. It is making crucial decisions for our lives. Getting new wineskins is making the disciplined changes in our lives that will ensure that we enjoy the wine.
Jesus is very explicit.
In today’s Gospel, Mark 2:13-17, Jesus tells us why He came into the messiness of our world:
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Who of us are not sick in some ways? Jesus is here for all of us!
I just returned from an Americanized Chinese buffet lunch. I indulge every couple of months. And I always read and reflect on the fortune cookie that accompanies the bill. This is today’s:
“A good memory is fine but the ability to forget is the one true test of greatness.”
I doubt if any of us would contest that a good memory is fine. What about the ability to forget? The truth is that we do not forget that easily. When major things happen to us, good or bad, we remember them for the rest of our lives. When someone has done me a great wrong, I will never forget. The test of greatness comes when I make the choice not to seek revenge; when I make the choice to pray for the individual who has wronged me; when I make the choice to forgive even though I don’t want to. The test of greatness comes not in forgetting – which I can’t do as a human being – but in choosing to go beyond my feelings and forgive as Jesus commands.
Today’s Gospel, Mark 1:40-45, is the third consecutive healing Gospel story since we’ve brought the Christmas season to an end.
“A leper came to Him and kneeling down begged Him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand, touched the leper, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”
Leprosy was a dreaded disease in the ancient world. People who contracted the disease were expelled from society and were forced to live on the margins feared and avoided by all. Jesus did not fear or avoid lepers. In this story, the leper asks Jesus to heal him. Jesus says that He wants to. He could easily have just said, “Be made clean.” but He did far more than that. He did the unthinkable, “He stretched out His hand, touched the leper …” He had physical contact with him. To a man shunned by society this physical touch was a precious gift. In touching him, Jesus affirmed his personhood in a way that mere words could not.
We can sometimes be uncomfortable with appropriate touch. And yet appropriate touch can be a healing gift.
Today’s Gospel, Mark 1:29-39, brings us to the small town of Capernaum and the earliest days of Jesus’ active ministry.
“Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.”
Simon Peter was married. Not only did he have a mother-in-law but a wife and most likely children as did all of His followers. They were vibrant young Jewish men and were expected to marry and have families. And yet Jesus invited them to leave everything and come and follow Him. What did that actually mean? We don’t know except that we can say that it entailed great sacrifices on their parts. And Jesus’ power of attraction was so great that they were willing to make those sacrifices. How much contact did they have with their families? We don’t know, but we do know that the relationships changed significantly once they left all and followed Him.
Where does that leave us – you and me? We all have a variety of commitments. Jesus has called each of us into a special relationship with Him. That call means leaving something (someone) behind. That call means leaving behind whatever can be an obstacle to furthering our relationship with Jesus. There is no following Jesus without some kind of sacrifice.