New Wineskins

Reflection on the Eight Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 26)

By Rebecca Mertz

The readings for this Sunday:
Hosea 2:16b, 17b, 21-22
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
Mark 2:18-22

The full text of the readings can be found here.

“Things aren’t what they used to be.” When you hear this phrase, you can be reasonably certain that whatever is being described is perceived to have gone from good to bad. The price of gas isn’t what it used to be. The movies aren’t what they used to be. Young people aren’t what they used to be. A neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Church isn’t what it used to be.

The notion that there was a state of good and now that state is in serious decline holds tremendous sway over many Christians. We often talk as if Christ is something to be recaptured and his kingdom on earth something that has to be fiercely protected to keep it from sinking into decline along with the rest of society.

This week’s gospel challenges that notion by reminding us that Christ’s preaching was a challenge to the deeply religious and ritualized society in which he lived, proof positive that God’s revelations are anything but static. “New wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

When I hear people express that the world is falling into decline I’m reminded of the fact that in my lifetime (40 years) the words idiot, moron and imbecile were clinical terms for the mentally disabled. Autism was blamed on unloving mothers. The mentally ill were treated to electric shock, institutionalization and heavy sedation. Victims of paralysis were crippled. People who experienced physical and mental challenges were seen as aberrations and had very few if any civil rights.

Today… the mentally disabled are recognized to have a wide variety of abilities and are no longer described in pejorative terms. Autism is recognized as a medical condition and not blamed on parenting. Mental illness is understood to encompass a broad spectrum and there are new drugs to successfully treat various conditions. Paraplegics participate in numerous sporting events thanks to equipment they developed and quadriplegics are moving toward unassisted living.

The progress we have made in our treatment of the disenfranchised cannot be overestimated. And as a person of faith, I have to look at the recognition that people with disabilities should not be hidden from society’s view but integrated and appreciated for their gifts and talents as a sign of the new wine of God’s continuing revelation.

It might be a natural inclination to hold onto what is past, just as parents cling to mementos of their offspring, but to truly be people of faith means that we have to embrace change as inevitable and be open to God’s revelation in the new wine being poured all around us.

What is this new wine? The realization that committed, loving relationships can exist between the same gender and that same-sex marriage poses no threat to straight couples. That men can be nurturing parents and women great providers. That sexuality is about more than procreation. That ministry has less to do with gender and celibacy and more to do with ability and spiritual maturity. That drawing national boundaries around God results in violence and destruction.

Are we faith-filled enough to let go of what is familiar and comfortable and try to appreciate this new wine?