March 2, 2003
“New Wine, New Wineskins!”
(Mark 2: 18-22 )
This week, a good friend of mine died, Fred Rogers, whom you may have
known from his popular PBS children's TV show, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." I
met Fred 7 years ago at the funeral of a friend of ours, Fr. Henri Nouwen,
and he started writing and calling me regularly to talk about the world
and peace and we became very close. I heard from him many times since
I came to New Mexico, and he wrote me at Christmas. But he got stomach
cancer four weeks ago and died very quickly. He, his wife, children and
grandchildren were all gentle, loving people. Fred was both loved, because
of his work for children, and dismissed by this cynical country, as na´ve
and a wimp, but the country was all wrong about him. He was a devout Christian,
an ordained minister, a theologian and he knew exactly what he was doing.
He tried to teach us not just to love our children and our neighbors,
but to realize that we live in a global neighborhood and have to love
everyone everywhere and be against war and injustice anywhere. Fred continued
to grow. His heart was wide open. He was open to whatever God and Jesus
had to show him. That's why I think of him as a saint.
Jesus tells us today that he is bringing new wine which requires new
wineskins. Whenever something new happens in life, that means we have
to make a change. When we have a new baby, we have to change, adjust our
lives and care for the baby. When we get a new home, we have to pack up,
move out, unpack and change our lives. When we start a new school or a
new job, we have to get up earlier, meet new people, do new things and
Jesus tells us that one way to understand his life is as an invitation
to new wine which he says requires new wineskins. The Gospel is trying
to get us to see that he is offering us something entirely new, a way
of life, a new way of acting, a new way of thinking, which means he wants
us to get rid of our old wineskins and let go of our old ways of acting
and thinking, and try out his new wine.
So the question of the Gospel today is: What is the new wine Jesus is
bringing you, and what are the new wineskins he wants you to use? I invite
you to reflect on these questions.
For me, I think his new wine is his message, his life, his call to conversion--to
love one another, pray constantly, seek justice for the poor, put down
the sword, love our enemies, forgive one another, show compassion to one
another, take up the cross and follow him, which means he wants us to
change, to be converted again and again to his word.
But the problem is, Who wants to change? The religious leaders in his
day certainly didn't and told him so. "We don't want your new wine," they
said. "We're not changing. We don't want your new way of doing things.
We want things to stay the same. We like the old wineskins, the old ways
of doing things. We are perfectly content with the way things are." Jesus
kept inviting them to his life, they kept resisting his invitation, and
finally, they couldn't take it anymore, so they killed him. Even the disciples
betray him, deny him and abandon him. No one wants the new wine that Jesus
So we might also ask ourselves: how open are we to Jesus? Do we want
the new wine that Jesus brings, or do we reject his new wine, his new
way of life, his call to change?
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, and it's a time to say, "Yes,
Jesus, we want to drink your new wine, we will discard our old wineskins,
we want to receive whatever new gifts you want to give us."
So I invite you to spend the next few days preparing for Lent and what
you are going to do this Lent for Jesus. There are so many things you
can do, and I urge you to do something new and positive and beautiful
for Jesus. You can take 20 minutes each day in silent contemplative prayer
and listen to Jesus. You can try to attend daily Mass. You can take a
little time to read the Gospel every day. You can come to our Lenten Bible
study series on Monday nights. You can join the Pope's call to fast one
day a week for peace. You can give alms and visit the sick and the imprisoned
and do deliberate acts of compassion. You can come to our reconciliation
service. You can come to Stations of the Cross on Friday nights. You can
study Gospel nonviolence and get involved in the Catholic peace movement
and speak out against war and nuclear weapons. You can see where Jesus
wants you to grow and try to work with him a little bit every day on that
Lent is a precious opportunity to return to God, to turn back to Jesus,
to start walking again each day with Jesus, to follow his path of nonviolent,
compassionate love, and to taste the new wine that he offers.
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