- St Irenaeus
Then John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunken cloth on to an old cloak, because the patch pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost. No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.’
CHRIST THE LORD
Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom, a title that reveals two things. First, it reiterates the Messiah’s divinity. In the Old Testament, especially in the sayings of the prophets, God frequently uses the image of betrothal to describe and comment on his relationship with the Chosen People of Israel. The covenant bond God makes, renews, and deepens with his Chosen People has the same unifying, fructifying, and enduring quality of a marriage bond. When Jesus identifies himself as the bridegroom, therefore, he is asserting that the betrothal has come to an end, and the marriage is now, in him, imminent – language reminiscent of his first preaching: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” If he were merely a prophet or an anointed earthly king (like David) such claims would be out of place. He must be more. He must be the eternal God himself come to wed his beloved spouse, the new Chosen People, the Church. Second, the bridegroom image reveals the sort of love this Lord has for his people – a passionate, personal, determined love, the love that a young man in the prime of his life bears towards his beautiful young fiancée in the prime of her life. This is no philosophical God, no distant, cold watchmaker in the sky, no abstract, Aristotelian unmoved mover. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Judah loves not less than the greatest human love, but even more.
CHRIST THE TEACHER
The lesson of the new wine and the new cloth becomes clear only in its carefully chosen context. John the Baptist’s disciples are still committed to John, even though John himself had explained unambiguously that he was simply the messenger, while Christ was the Messiah, the Lamb of God. These disciples hadn’t been able to accept John’s message, or at least they didn’t get it. They were perplexed, and now that their leader was in prison, they were closely watching Jesus to try and figure things out. They noticed that Christ and his disciples didn’t fast (fasting was a ubiquitous penitential practice among religious folks of the time), and this seemed to prove definitively that Jesus couldn’t be the real thing. Jesus sets them straight, not by giving excuses for his behavior, but by trying to get them to see that the promise around which the Old Covenant pivoted has been fulfilled in him; it has reached completion; the building is finished, so the inelegant scaffolding can be removed.
The New Covenant is the final, everlasting Covenant; it will not change. And yet, even so, we in the Church can still fall into this same error. In every age, the Holy Spirit raises up new saints and new apostolates to keep building up the Church and equip it to meet new onslaughts of evil. In each Christian’s life he does the same. Life is growth, and growth means change; let’s keep a stash of new wineskins close at hand.
CHRIST THE FRIEND
Jesus wants to come into your life because he wants you to share his joy. He calls his disciples his “wedding guests.” The Greek term literally means “children of the bridal chamber,” a phrase that referred to those special guests who were the bridegroom’s best friends, the ones who spent the week long wedding reception (the ancient Palestinian alternative to modern-day honeymoons) at his side, sharing his joy and celebrating with him. Jesus wants your friendship, and he wants it to deepen, so that the indescribable joy that overflows from his love can spill into your life and the lives of those around you. He only needs you say one thing to make it happen – but he needs you to say it over and over: “Jesus, thy will be done.”
CHRIST IN MY LIFE
I know, Lord, that a sad saint is a bad saint. You are a God of joy. I long for true joy, the kind that lasts even in the midst of suffering, because it is grounded in your love, a love that never tires. I believe in your love, Jesus, but I still need you to teach me how to live in its light. You are the bridegroom of my heart. Teach me the way to go; show me the path to follow…
Sometimes I am afraid of what you may ask me. I hesitate to follow you, like John the Baptist’s disciples. Why, Lord? Enlighten me. Your will is full of wisdom. Give me the courage to be wise…
You guide all of history – you prepared the world for the Incarnation, and now you spread your grace slowly but surely through the work of your Church. Thank you for your presence, your forgiveness, and your grace. I want to build your Church, to be a healthy cell in the Body of Christ. Make use of me, Lord. With you I can do all things…
Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC