Jan 16, 2017. Monday, Week 2

Saint Fursa [Fursey], abbot and missionary (c. 597-650)

1st Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

Jesus is our Priest, and the source of eternal salvation for all

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you;” as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: Mark 2:18-22

With the bridegroom present, don’t put new wine into old wine-skins

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”


Theology and Common Sense

Jesus is contrasted to the high priests of the old covenant, who first had to make sin offerings for themselves and then for those of the people. Earlier, the same epistle (Hebrews) noted how Jesus understands our weakness because he was “tempted in every way that we are..” Rather than trying to grasp the interaction between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, it may be more fruitful to look at today’s Gospel and then from that vantage point return to this issue.

When accused by hard-line conservatives that his disciples do not fast, Jesus does not get trapped into debate about the value of fasting and its traditional practice, but reaches for a common-sense parallel. His response is to ask: “What normal person calls for fasting and mourning, while a bride and bridegroom are celebrating their marriage?” He then moves the argument up another notch: “New times call for new responses, and you cannot resolve every issue just by appeal to tradition.” He adds further examples from everyday life: Experience has taught winemakers not to put un-fermented wine into old wine-skins, or the old, shrunken skins will burst. And one who cares for their clothing will not sew a new piece of leather on an older, shrunken piece, for the new patch will shrink and make a larger hole.

This kind of appeal to common sense has a levelling effect: everyone can share in the discussion. Sometimes an unlearned person, untrammeled by layers of tradition, will more quickly find an honest, viable answer to a new issue. The example of Jesus seems to say that unless our theology can stand the test of common sense and blend with the accumulated insights of people today, that theology is suspect. How can it be it a valid theology, or truly God’s word, if it does not fit the religious sense of God’s people?

And so, back to the letter to the Hebrews. Our common-sense theology is confirmed when we find our Saviour, Jesus, “learning obedience” from what he suffered. It is so helpful to experience the close presence of Jesus within our own experience of weakness and temptation. “People who are healthy do not need a doctor; but sick people do,” he said, and then added, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous,” (Mk 2:17.) Perhaps today’s Scriptures will help us be humble in our theology and persistent in our common sense.

Wineskins and Cana

Wine is nearly always associated with a wedding feast, with the beginning of a marriage, as was clear from yesterday’s gospel of the marriage feast of Cana. Having spoken of himself as the bridegroom, Jesus goes on to liken his presence to that of new wine. The new wine of the Lord’s loving presence and life-giving activity calls for new wineskins. The Lord’s love is a grace but it also makes demands on us, calling on us to keep renewing our lives so that they are worthy receptacles for his love. New wine, fresh skins. We have to keep shedding our old skin and grow new skin. We can never fully settle for where we are.

Saint Fursa [Fursey], abbot and missionary (c. 597-650)

Fursa, or Fursey, was an Irish monk who did much to establish Christianity throughout the British Isles and particularly in East Anglia. Born near Galway, he was educated by St Brendan’s monks, and was accepted into the monastery at Inisquin, under the Abbot St Meldan, his “soul-friend” (anam-chara), where he devoted himself to religious life. is the first recorded Irish missionary to Anglo-Saxon England. He arrived in East Anglia during the 630s shortly before St Aidan founded his monastery on Lindisfarne. Later he went to France (c. 648) and founded a monastery at Lagny, beside the Marne near Paris, and many of his Irish countrymen were attracted to his rule at Lagny. Two years later he
died about 650 at Mézerolles while on a missionary journey

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