New Wine of the Bridegroom

“New Wine of the Bridegroom”
A reflection on Mark 2:18-22
Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, 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.”

Mark 2:18-22

Fasting and Feasting For the Kingdom

During the ministry of John the Baptist, onlookers attributed his asceticism to demon possession.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’

Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33

When John was in prison, people turned on Jesus and his disciples with disapproval. 

The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34

In Matthew’s version of the dialogue on fasting, those who question Jesus are John’s disciples:

Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

Matthew 9:14

Whether a holy man fasted or feasted, the masses found fault with them. The censorious, focused on religious observance for its own sake, missed the point. John’s fasting and Jesus’ feasting both anticipated the kingdom of heaven. John, the friend of the bridegroom, fasted in the wilderness in order to discern the true Lamb of God. Feasting with “tax collectors and sinners,” Christ the bridegroom clothed his guests with garments of salvation for the heavenly wedding banquet (Isaiah 61:10; Matthew 22:11). 

The Bridegroom and the Bride Rejoice

In the face of negative judgments, Jesus freely dined with his disciples and undesirables. For the bridegroom heralded by John had arrived; Immanuel—“God with us”—dwelt among them (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). 

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.”

Mark 2:19

Israel’s story had embarked on its climactic chapter: the divine lover and husband who espoused them in the wilderness had become man (Hosea 2:20(21)). Rejoicing must accompany the longed-for encounter between the bridegroom and the bride.

For as a young man marries a virgin,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 62:5 (RSV)

The Days of Fasting Will Come

“But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

Mark 2:20

In the centuries after Pentecost, thousands of ascetics, imitating John the Baptist and Elijah, fled to the desert to purify their hearts through prayer and fasting. They followed the example of Christ himself, who fasted for forty days and nights in the wilderness, battling the tempter. Jesus foresaw the necessity of prayer and fasting in the early church in order to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2-30; 14:23).

I Will Pour Out My Spirit

The bridegroom of Israel, bearing new garments and new wine, promised to send the Holy Spirit on his people, as prophesied by Joel: 

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. 
Even upon the menservants and maidservants
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Joel 2:28-29 (RSV); Joel 3:1-2 (NABRE); Acts 2:17-18

Into the valley of dry bones, the anointed bridegroom descends to breathe new life into his bride (Ezekiel 37:1-14). At Pentecost, Christ’s disciples will be transformed into living temples of the Holy Spirit. Poured into the new wineskins of the new Israel, the Holy Spirit breathes the eternal law of love into human hearts (Ezekiel 11:19; Mark 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:3).

Pour new wine into new wineskins! 
Christ has come to replace old gins.

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