Today’s short Gospel seems simple, but it is packed full; we should take it one step at a time so nothing is missed.
First, we note that it is the disciples of John the Baptist who are asking the question. They are trying to make sense of this new rabbi. They have aligned themselves with John, who is clearly a prophet, and they adhere to the common (and important) Old Covenant practice of frequent fasting. It is logical for them to ask why Jesus and his disciples do not fast, when clearly it is the right thing to do – the Pharisees fast, and so do John’s followers.
Jesus does not make excuses. Instead, as he often does when confronted by those who do not yet understand who he is and what he has come to establish, he shifts the perspective. “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” This would make little sense as an answer to their question, except that it is Old Testament language which his hearers would have recognized; the prophets often referred to Yahweh as being betrothed to His people. By calling himself the Bridegroom, Jesus is saying that the time of betrothal is over and the wedding feast is about to begin – he is declaring that he is God, the Bridegroom of his beloved people.
But Jesus goes farther, with more Old Testament references. According to Psalm 102, the Old Covenant was scheduled to “wear out like a garment”; Jesus brings something completely new, which cannot be simply part of a patchwork on that old worn out garment. It is like new wine, which cannot be put into old wineskins without bursting them.
Jesus has shifted the discussion so that John’s disciples might open themselves to see something new here. John the Baptist had made clear that he was not the Messiah, but was only preparing the way for him; in one sense, it was his task to help the Jews be open to the newness Jesus was bringing. The abundance of grace Jesus brings in establishing the New and Eternal Covenant cannot be contained within the structured limits of the Old Covenant. Did they get the message? The Gospel doesn’t tell us what John’s disciples thought of Jesus’ answer.
Jesus invites all of us to open ourselves to new possibilities, new opportunities, new manifestations of the Spirit, new apostolates in every age, to face the challenges and sins of every generation. Do we get the message? Have we personally glimpsed the awesome newness of life that Christ came to bring, and that he brings to us continually in the sacramental life of the Church? Are we convinced that the Good News is really good enough to share with others? Are we open to the surprises of God?
Kathryn is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax.