Want new clothes?

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15 January 2018

How do you see Christianity? Is it a religion of laws and regulations? Or one centered around a personal relationship with God? Today’s gospel brings this contrast to the light and asks you the question: do you want new clothes?

In Jesus’ parables, the Kingdom of Heaven is often described as a banquet, a wedding, a party, a place of pure joy and experience of complete love centered around a personal communion with God. This is contrasted with the Pharisees’ preoccupation with laws and regulations. It is easy to share the Pharisees’ understanding of faith, reducing faith and ultimately life to merely following rules. But Christ measures faith by love. He wants to give you, through communion with Him, a new life. To give you new clothes and new wine in your wineskins (check out the Gospel if you’re slightly confused by the analogy).

The rule in question in today’s Gospel is fasting. While not a part of the Law of Moses, fasting was considered an important expression of faith. So for Jesus, the test was whether He would adhere to the fast. His adherence would indicate whether He was devoted to the ceremonial law. After all, He had already been ‘caught’ healing on the Sabbath, was this next piece of evidence the Pharisees needed to challenge Jesus?

The tradition of fasting intended to remind us of our dependence on God, waiting on Him when something is missing or seeking His salvation in times of need. Jesus is making a clear statement in His response to the tradition: He is the one that they were waiting on, He is the answer what they seek. Rather than fasting, humanity should be rejoicing at the coming of the Son of God.

This is not to say there isn’t a place for fasting, or the other traditions of the ceremonial law, into the future. Even today, fasting is a way where we can be reminded of our dependence on God for His love and salvation. The point Jesus makes is that the He is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. In Jesus alone do we find a life lived to the full? Blind devotion to the fast was incompatible with the new covenant Christ was inaugurating. Fasting with Jesus present made as much sense as sewing new cloth onto old clothes or pouring new wine into old wineskins. What Jesus wanted to do was bring us the new clothes or give us new wineskins as He provides us with a life lived to the full.

It is easy to fall back into what we know. Old clothes and used wineskins provide us familiarity. Similarly, the rules that are laid out allow us to measure where we stand with God. But the Gospels tell us our standing with God depends on His love for us and our willingness to love Him in return. God tells us that He “did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16) Condemning comes from our ability to adhere the law; salvation comes from our ability to accepts communion of love with God.

John wrote that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); not “God is justice.” We are a new creation by love. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). Experiencing such merciful love comes not from any of righteousness, but through communion with God. Are you willing to be clothed in this love?

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