in him all things hold together ... that in all things he himself
might be preeminent ...
Jesus is such a great teacher. He takes us to the places where we need to learn from experience and grow. And, it is often adversaries or conflict from the outside that brings clarity. Here the question or challenge seems to be about following the rules. Jesus turns it into an instruction on openness, essential flexibility, and the transformational nature of his call.
The conflict is that Jesus and his followers aren't fasting and praying, as the religious elite do. Jesus' response takes us right to a place where you and I can chew his word for our concrete situation today. There are times when we are close to the Lord and can experience intimacy with him easily and freely. In those times, our awareness of his presence keeps us balanced and full of joy and peace. Making decisions, even ones that require great sacrifice, are effortless and spontaneous. However, there are times when we are not close to the Lord. Our spirits are being tossed about by all kinds of tensions and crises, and perhaps a few bad choices. Jesus tells us that this is the time for serious prayer and fasting. In this situation we need to stop the decline, quit making bad choices and giving in to temptations. This is the time to choose sacrifices to let grace move us in the direction of the Lord.
Then Jesus takes that simple discernment teaching and makes it bigger. Few of us are in the habit these days of trying to sew patches of new cloth on worn clothing, but we understand that it involves a problem with the new patch shrinking and pulling apart the old cloth. Perhaps even fewer of us have experienced goat skins used to make wine. It is easy to imagine, however, how a glove soft goat skin filled with new wine will stretch, bloat and become hard while the wine is fermenting. No one will start the fermentation process in that hardened skin. It can't stretch and expand any more.
Both compelling images can give us something powerful for reflection today. Both give us concrete examples that help us look at how we approach receiving a word from the Lord which is new, challenging, stretching, taking us out of our "comfort zone," or is trans formative. All growth involves change and risk. If I don't want to endure change or face the risk of failing, then growth can't happen.
The way Jesus loves us is to comfort us with his presence so we can be open to growth. His love renews us. His presence frees us and makes us more flexible and allows us to love us, being stretched and transformed in the process. So, when we feel distant from the Lord and struggle with loving or sacrificing, or facing the serious issues that come to us, we might consider serious prayer and fasting to help us return to the Lord's comforting, healing presence, which renews us and allows us to grow.
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