Saint Fabian, pope and martyr (opt. Memorial); Saint Sebastian, martyr (opt. Memorial)
Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night." He replied, "Speak." Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.' Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?" Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction,to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal."
And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king."
I find no fault with your sacrifices,
your offerings are always before me.
I do not ask more bullocks from your farms,
nor goats from among your herds. (R./)
But how can you recite my commandments
and take my covenant on your lips,
you who despise my law
and throw my words to the winds. (R./)
You do this, and should I keep silence?
Do you think that I am like you?
a sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
and I will show God's salvation to the upright. (R./)
At that time 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."
Samuel’s command to king Saul to destroy the Amalekites is baffling and scandalous. Saul was to totally exterminate this neighbouring tribe that was hostile towards Israel. And then it shocks us that Saul was deposed from his kingship for not completing his gruesome task, and sparing the king of the Amalekites. By contrast, shile the issue dealt with in the gospel is one of devotional practice, some were scandalised that Jesus’ disciples seemed less ascetical than those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees.
Let’s examine our Lord’s answer to the question about fasting. He does not question the value of fasting but appeals to the atmosphere of a wedding celebration and asks: Why would one think of fasting during such a happy occasion? The wedding image refers to his own presence and message, as a honeymoon period for mankind.
This sense of a special time of grace is paralleled in pope Francis’ attitude to resolving moral dilemmas today. His reluctance to condemn some new developments has a healthy, levelling effect, so that all may share in the discussion. This is welcome after a time when open dialogue about shifting social mores was repressed by Roman authority. The less bound we feel by traditional answers, the easier it is to find a workable, honest answer, in line with the overall teaching of Jesus.
Francis seems to say that unless theology reflects the shared wisdom of good, decent people, it can be of little help to the church. Theology and common sense must join hands — on the basis that God is one and that wisdom is harmonious. We do not worship a remote God, who calls for impossible things. Good theology bears in mind that God created the universe and saw “how good it was” (Gen 1:12). We must hope and pray that into the future the Church’s teaching will be enriched and kept realistic by the honestly shared views of married couples.
Some find it puzzling that Jesus, who was a celibate, calls himself the bridegroom, in whose presence no fasting is required. He is echoing the prophets in the Old Testament who often spoke of God as the bridegroom and the people, Israel, as the bride. Spiritually, God had married this particular people, providing a joy that they must share with other nations. With the wedding imagery, Jesus implies that he has come to share God’s joy not only with the people of Israel, but with people of every nation on earth.
St Paul also uses the metaphor of marriage to illustrate how the Christian community is united with God. The Lord Jesus is like our faithful spouse, who stays true to us even if we are unfaithful to him. That is not meant complacently, as though we may sin without consequences, but to assure us of love and mercy whenever we fail and repent. He wants his people to be as faithful to Christ as Christ is to us. The new wine of his love always needs new wine-skins; we need to keep renewing our relationship with him, making room for new insights into what life now requires of us.
Drinking wine was normal at a wedding feast, as is clear from the marriage feast of Cana. Seeing himself as the bridegroom, Jesus then likens his presence to that of new wine. The new wine of the Lord’s life-giving Gospel calls for new wine-skins. His love makes demands on us, calling on us to keep renewing our lives so that we can love as he did. New wine, fresh skins. We can never fully settle for doing things as we’ve always done them.