Jesus' Evolution: New Wine in New Wineskins

26 February 2006: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 2, 18-22: New Wine in New Wineskins

There is in religious people a kind of passion for the old. Nothing moves more slowly than a church. The trouble with the Pharisees was that the whole religious outlook of Jesus was so startingly new and subversive, they simply could not adjust to it.

The mind soon loses the quality of elasticity and will not accept new ideas. Jesus used two illustrations. “You cannot put a new patch on an old garment,” he said, “The strong new cloth will only rip the rent in the old cloth wider.” Bottles in Palestine were made of skin. When new wine was put into them it fermented and gave off gas. If the bottle was new, there was a certain elasticity in the skin and it could handle the pressure; but if it was old, the skin was dry and hard and it would burst. “Don’t,” says Jesus, “let your mind become like an old wineskin. People say of wine, ‘The old is better.’ It may be at the moment, but they forget that it is a mistake to despise the new wine, for the day will come when it has matured and it will be the best of all. The Gospel is thus Jesus’ condemnation of the shut mind and a plea that men and women should not reject new ideas. It is not a condemnation of the old of age, but the old of mind.

Thus, I have two points: First, we should never be afraid of adventurous thought. We should be open to new ideas. If there is such a person as the Holy Spirit, God must ever be leading us into new truth. Since September is the Science Month, let me start with examples from science. In medicine, how would medicine fare if doctors were restricted to drugs and methods and techniques three hundred years old?” And yet our standards of orthodoxy are far older than that. The man with something new has always to fight. Galileo was branded a heretic when he held that the earth moved round the sun. Lister had to fight for antiseptic technique in surgical operations. Simpson had to battle against opposition in the merciful use of chloroform.

Some Jesuit saints are perfect examples of people with adventurous thought. Mateo Ricci went to preach the Gospel in China wearing a rich merchant’s garment. John de Brito in India became a swami, a guru wearing the orange saffron robes. And at that time, Mateo Ricci was opposed by Rome. Today, the Church pushes for inculturation which the Jesuits, such as Mateo Ricci were doing several centuries ago. Francis Xavier used music to teach catechism. Ignatius fought for the Jesuits not to be obliged to pray in choir, singing in choir, because of the urgency of its mission. Before the Jesuits were suppressed, secondary education was a new idea and at its helm were the men of Ignatius. As portrayed in the movie, The Mission, the Paraguay reductions among the Guarani Indians was a new method. And years later, Miguel Agustin Pro would preach by juggling. It is the charism of Jesuits to use the most effective methods to preach Christ, and to uplift the life of many.

How open are we to new ideas? In Ateneo de Naga, teachers in a department take turns in becoming department chairpersons. In Xavier University High School, should this idea be considered? Can we dissolve the honors or semi-honors section and make every class equal and heterogeneous? Are we open to use the class saints as categories, and not the letter sections? You see, by using the letters as sections, the mind is trained that all A’s are far better than the rest. And all in Section K are worst. We say that the letter sections are easier to remember. But we memorize concepts in Biology, Chemistry, Social Studies, or as teachers, we demand our students to memorize hundreds of terms. And so, why can’t we memorize class saints? It may not be the most practical and convenient, but it can be most valuable. Moreover, should positions of leadership be according to performance and not according to educational attainment? Furthermore, are we ready to have a principal or a Campus Minister who are lay persons? It is good, at least, to consider the possibilities.

Let us have a care that when we resent new ideas we are not simply demonstrating that our minds have grown old and inelastic; and let us never shrink from the adventure of thought.

Second, we should never be afraid of new methods. That a thing has always been done may very well be the best reason for stopping to do it. That a thing has never been done may very well be the best reason for trying it. We have been accustomed to doing some things in Xavier and have forgotten why we are doing it. Some things are obsolete and do not have the effectivity of new methods. No business could exist on outworn methods--- and yet we still do it. Any business which had lost as many customers would have tried new ways long ago--- but we tend to resent all that is new. You see, being educated or worked with Jesuits, does not guarantee that we have imbibed the spirit of St. Ignatius. During St. Ignatius’ time, the Spiritual Exercises was a new method of praying and reflection. And Ignatius was thought to be a heretic. To be open to new methods is one of the distinctive characteristics of Jesuits, and those whose spirituality is Ignatian. Last year, we have used rock music during the Monday assembly as a new method of presentation. And it was branded as very informal and not fit to the occasion. There was a time when the swing, the boogie and the cha-cha were banned from formal occasions. Now, they are categorized as ballroom music (read: formal music). Moreover, the samba, tango and rhumba are sensual dances that require gyrating hips and bodies close to each other. Today, they are taught in ‘formal’ gatherings such as the Juniors’ Prom.

Once on a world tour, Rudyard Kipling saw General Booth come aboard the ship. He came aboard to the beating of tambourines which Kipling’s orthodox soul resented. Kipling got to know the General and told him how he disliked tambourines and all their kindred. Booth looked at him. “Young man” he said, “if I thought I could win one more soul for Christ by standing on my head and beating a tambourine with my feet I would do it.” This, I believe, is the parameter: if a new idea or a new method would lead us to Christ, then we should adapt it. And if it doesn’t, we ignore it. In Ignatian terms, the criterion is the tantum quantum. Because I believe, the beauty of Christianity is in its dynamism and its openness to new things. Christians should be adventurous and open as Jesus said. Because He, himself, is adventurous and open. His ideas were radical. His methods were new. But they were effective.

Jesus’ ideas are subversive. They disturb. They challenge. They give us a kick. It is evolution. Let us have a care that in thought and in deed, we are not hidebound reactionaries when we ought, as Christians, to be gallant adventurers.

* photo by Neo Saicon SJ.
** I have given this homily to the community of Xavier University High School. Thus, the examples are about XUHS. But I think the point is very much clear.

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