Lent 3B, 2012
Mark 2: 13-22
A Liturgy is also available
CREATIVE CHANGE OR NEW WINE IN NEW WINE SKINS.
The world belongs to those who offer it the greatest hope.
So said Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
He stands in the tradition of Christian thought
as a prophet of hope in the ambiguities of our 21st century.
When I began ministry in the early 1970s
all the talk around the place was about ‘the generation gap’.
Now it hardly ever gets a mention.
Except when teenagers use a war memorial as a skate-board ramp!
One of those whose writing I was attracted to at the time was anthropologist Margaret Mead,
especially her book Culture and Commitment.
In that book she describes three cultural forces at work in society.
Each was shaped in different ways and each
shaped people in different ways.
• In a culture shaped by the past the grandparent is the model
and the child’s future would be a repeat of the grandparents life.
• In a culture shaped by the present both the child and the adult
are shaped by their peers.
In both these cultures, past and present, parents cling to the belief
children will turn out to be very much like themselves.
• In a culture shaped by the unknown future things are very different.
Now it is the child who will lead and the adult will follow.
“Even very recently, the elders could say: ‘You know, I have been young and you never have been old’. But today’s young people can reply: ‘You never have been young in the world I am young in, and you never can be’” (Mead 1970: 61).
As a result, Mead said, two things have to happen to our thinking:
(i) the past is still there, but is instrumental rather than coercive, and
(ii) the future must be now.
Again, let me offer a Mead comment:
“We must place the future, like the unborn child in the womb of the woman, within a community of men, women, and children, among us, already here, already to be nourished and succoured and protected, already in need of things for which, if they are not prepared before it is born, it will be too late” (Mead 1970: 94).
I confess to agreeing with Margaret Mead.
I also confess that while her suggestions have been available to us
for more that 40 years, the majority of us have largely ignored them.
• Becoming prophets of hope in our society, requires of us
to continually place new wine into new wine skins!
Thirteen years after Margaret Mead published her book
an Australian ‘first’ was being held in Melbourne.
Just before Christmas in 1983 the then Australian Council of Churches
was sponsoring the first Australian conference on
“Faith, Science and Technology”.
Ten leading speakers offered their thoughts on the subject.
Five people told their stories relating to faith and science,
and more than 160 people in just three days,
The conference itself was a follow-on from a ground-breaking WCC conference
on the theme held at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, in 1979.
And it was clear from the response to the Australian conference,
its theme had touched a nerve of great concern to many people.
One of the speakers was Charles Birch, then Professor of Biology
at Sydney University and a member of the Uniting Church.
He asked the question:
what should be the response of faith to a scientific understanding of the world?
In asking this question, Birch said:
“The demise of traditional religion in our time is largely due to the judgment that much that the churches have to say is related to a prescientific age and is no longer relevant in a scientific age” (Birch 1984:30).
“One response of faith to a scientific understanding of the world is to attempt to put the new wine of science into the old bottles of faith... But these attempts always fail because their exponents fail to understand that it is not only science that develops in time but faith as well” (Birch 1984:30).
I confess to also agreeing with Charles Birch.
There needs to be both a transformation of science
and a transformation of religion.
• Becoming prophets of hope in our age of 21st century technology,
requires of us to continually place new wine into new wine skins!
For too long the second gospel we call Mark was largely neglected in the world of biblical studies.
Indeed, some of that neglect goes way back to good-old Augustine,
who thought it was “merely a summary of Matthew”,
while others said its style was
“crude in comparison to the lofty poetic style of the Fourth Gospel, or the refined Greek of Luke” (Reid 1999:26).
Only in the last 40+ years has there been a renewed interest in Mark.
One of those to lead the renewed interest is Tom Boomershine
who’s study follows a ‘narrative’ thesis.
Another is Ched Myers who offers a ‘socio-political’ thesis.
Commenting on the latter, Catholic biblical scholar Barbara Reid says:
“…the relentless shadow of the cross and the rawness of the crucified Jesus in this Gospel communicate a sober indictment of oppressive political regimes and a powerful message of hope to those most downtrodden when read from this perspective” (Reid 1999:26).
And that message of hope can be heard in the sayings of Mark’s Jesus:
• Since when do the able-bodied need a doctor? It’s the sick who do.
• The groom’s friends can’t fast while the groom is present, can they?
• Nobody pours young wine into old wineskins…?
My friends in the Jesus Seminar give all these sayings a ‘pink’ colouring,
meaning that ‘Jesus probably said something like this’.
So we just maybe are hearing the echoes of some
of the actual sayings of Jesus – give or take
a bit of oral and social tradition and adaptation in between!
The importance of all these sayings is, however, the concern Mark’s Jesus has,
to “pass on his wisdom to interested humanity” (Cairns 2004: 29) in a word of hope.
This new word of hope is incompatible with the old common-sense ‘wisdom’
where these sayings would be heard
just as a contrast of incompatibles.
The new wisdom or word of hope is designed to “tease the imagination and to evoke a kaleidoscopic range of images” (Cairns 2004: 32).
If these sayings do come from Jesus, then storyteller Mark is probably saying:
look at how radical this Jesus really is.
If they come from one or some of the early Jesus communities,
then storyteller Mark is probably saying:
look how new the Jesus community is compared to the old-style Judaism.
“… it is something radically new, demanding a new response” (Reid 1999:46).
But in our changed time and circumstances we must be wary
of any suggestion that infers these sayings
are claiming a superiority of Christianity over Judaism,
or that Christianity was a ‘reform movement’ within Judaism
which replaced or superseded Judaism.
Such views have been held by some in the past resulting in disastrous consequences.
Which only makes the Palestinian/Israeli tensions (and at times, war) in Gaza
all the more devastating!
Perhaps what we can say about these sayings is:
they invite us in our changed time to have the courage and the honesty,
to reinterpret the traditional answers we have be given,
and to ask new questions for the new context in which we live.
And that can be a beacon of hope to many, both ‘church alumni’
as well as those remaining within or on the edges of, the church institution.
• Becoming prophets of hope in the church, requires of us
to continually place new wine into new wine skins!
Birch, C. 1984. “New wine in new bottles” in C. Ledger (ed) 1984 and Beyond: Report of the Australian Council of Churches’ Conference: Faith, Science and
Technology. Sydney. ACC.
Cairns, I. J. 2004. Mark of a Non-Realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books.
Mead, M. 1970. Culture and Commitment. A Study of the Generation Gap. London. Bodley Head.
Reid, B. E. 1999. Parables for Preachers. Year B. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.