Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
The kingdom of God is being fulfilled
One must preserve and build upon the old and incorporate the new
February 27, Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Mark continues to guide us during this church year in exploring the role of Jesus in our lives. Last Sunday, we began to look at a series of conflict stories that Mark has put together. In each, different Jewish authorities challenge Jesus.
Last week, in the story of the paralytic, the scribes asked how he could assume the authority of forgiving sins. This week, the Pharisees objected to the fact that Jesus' disciples did not fast. Disciples of John the Baptist join the Pharisees in asking why?
The only fast that the Old Testament required was on the Day of Atonement as expressed in Book of Leviticus, chapter 16,verse 29. We know from the Gospel of Luke (18:12) that the Pharisees fasted on other days as well. We do not know how often the disciples of John fasted.
The opponents of Jesus chide the fact his disciples did not fast. Notice that they did not criticize
Jesus directly. They seemed to indicate that Jesus was responsible for the practices of his disciples. The opponents suggest that Jesus did not set high standards for his disciples.
While this section of the gospel seems at first to be about religious practices, Mark is also using this story as an opportunity to identify Jesus as a messianic bridegroom. Jesus' ministry is portrayed as being unique. We also have the first hint that Jesus will die for pursuing his mission and in the last days the disciples will fast.
We must remember that Mark has told us from the beginning, in his very first verse, that he is going to show us that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. Therefore, hidden behind many of the stories is the very purpose set forth.
Jesus responded to this criticism by telling a parable. Parables are a common way of drawing from human experience certain principles that will point to specific truths and moral values.
Now while it is true that fasting has a certain value, for example, repentance for sin, there are other values that are also significant. Jesus uses the imagery of a wedding feast to teach. During a
wedding feast the members of the party celebrate with the bridegroom an important event. It is
perhaps interesting that there is no mention of the bride. This might be because this is a
patriarchal society or because the story needs to be short and direct. This will quickly underline
the truth being taught.
Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a wedding feast. There is a certain festivity that is always
associated with such a feast. One would hardly be expected to fast on such an occasion. So while
Jesus is with his disciples and the kingdom is breaking in, one needs to rejoice that God has
brought such a wonderful plan into existence. While we know with Mark that the bridegroom
will be taken away in Jesus' death, the main point is the stress on the happiness that should exist
because the kingdom of God is being fulfilled.
Another example is joined to this parable. One does not put new wine into old wineskins.
The repaired old wineskins, with new patches, will shrink and tear. The new wine is too volatile when it ferments and will burst the skins spilling all the wine. The goal is the preserve what one has. Mark may be suggesting to his readers that one does not just throw away the past especially the values of the Old Testament. One builds upon the old and incorporates the new. This is the time of the kingdom and it has been built upon a rich and fruitful past. One should know that all
of salvation history has pointed to Jesus and his mission and one should rejoice in this fact.
Today we do fast on specific occasions but we also rejoice that Jesus has shown us the way to the
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)