We are Called to Radical Transformation, Not a Mere Add-on

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Jesus wants us to know that life with him involves radical change. Accepting Jesus is not just a minor add-on to our life; it is not tweaking around the edges. It is something totally and radically new.

This message is forcefully present in today’s gospel reading. And we can get behind this message a little more by comparing different gospel versions of this story. And today we find that not only did Mark speak of the old-new cloth and the old-new wineskins, but so also did Matthew and Luke.

Mark, in his gospel, makes the point that the new spirit of Christ will not be something extra, not something added on to the old. No, the good news of salvation offered by Christ is not a partial patching up of one’s life, not a mixing of the old and the new; rather, it is a radical recreation of the old in the new.

Now the Gospel of Matthew extends this concept a bit. He adds “and so both are preserved”. Matthew sees the new and the old not so much as incompatible as that the old is in need of transformation.

And then we have the Gospel of Luke. Luke recasts the saying on the garment to “No one tears a piece from a new garment, and puts it on an old; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.” This suggests that the new and the old don’t mix or that the time for the old has passed.

Luke also adds: “No one after drinking old wine desires the new, for he says ‘the old is good.’” Here, Luke’s point is that those who have become enamored of old practices may be unwilling to accept the new.

So, Mark says don’t mix the old and the new. Matthew says to transform the old into the new. And Luke cautions against holding such strong ties to the old that you are unable to accept the new.

All three gospel writers recognize in both the cloth and the wineskin sayings, that what Jesus is doing can’t be fit into the existing ways of thinking and living. Those that try to do that will have the worst of both worlds.

And then, all this teaching about the compatibility of old and new is placed within a setting of a wedding feast. A wedding celebration is an expression of joy. It inaugurates a new day in which two unite and become one. Here, it represents the new day of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus. Christ is suggesting that the way to God is through joyful union with Him and that the discovery of Christ and the company of Christ is the key to happiness.

And it is here, with the connection to the wedding feast, that we are brought to the heart of this new radical way of living. And I would like to draw from the recent encyclical of Pope Benedict to illuminate this.

What the Holy Father unveils for us is a new and profound interconnectedness that is foreign to the way current western society thinks. It is as foreign as the patch of new cloth on the old cloak or the new wine in old wineskins.

Pope Benedict’s encyclical entitled “God is Love” was given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, last Christmas. In it, the Holy Father described marital love as a real discovery of the other; as a journey away from the inward-looking self towards self-giving and towards a discovery of God.

The Holy Father continues: In Jesus’ death on the Cross, God gave himself totally in sacrifice to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. And Jesus gave this act an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The marriage imagery between God and his people now becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus' self-gift, sharing in his body and blood.

And here comes the radical part. The Holy Father explains that Union with Christ is union with all those to whom he gives himself. We cannot possess Christ just for ourselves; we can belong to him only in union with all who have become or who will become his own.

Communion draws us out of ourselves and towards Him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united. Only in our readiness to encounter our neighbor and to show him love are our eyes opened to what God does for us and how much he loves us.

Our Holy Father’s description of this interconnectedness is profound, and living out this interconnectedness in our daily lives requires radical transformation, not a mere tweaking around the edges. In a world of self interest, selflessness is not an add-on. In a world of consumer excess, moderation is not an add-on. In a world of self-promotion, humility is not an add-on. And, in a world of ever more attractive offers, faithfulness is not an add-on.

These are all transformational changes that open up to each of us a world of joy and peace. A world radically and enticingly different from that which exists around us. A world only available to us through Christ Jesus.

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