Jesus ushers in the final wave of salvation history. This last wave is the one in which the greatest number will be saved and find safe passage to the Kingdom of God. This wave is an overabundance of God’s grace characterized by His Mercy. To have Jesus – God in the flesh – as a man amongst men, living humbly yet profoundly, is an invitation to consider perfection in a completely new way. The holiness of God comes uncomfortably close to us in Jesus. Many of us, if we consider our sins and shortcomings, would rather not be sitting next to the one who knows it all and is able to condemn us for eternity. “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” said St. Peter. Receiving forgiveness from God is one thing, having Him over for dinner and sharing a glass of wine with Him radically upsets what we would naturally perceive as the proper boundaries between what is Holy and what is mundane. Jesus certainly taught His disciples, but He would also listen to them: not only when He asked them questions, but also when they would simply speak about their lives and experiences. Jesus’ preferred title was not “Master,” or “Lord,” but “friend.” Indeed, what makes Him the Divine Physician is His desire and intent to become friends with every man and woman who have ever existed. If we accept Jesus’ gesture of friendship, we can be healed, be made whole, receive forgiveness, and understand how great the good news really is.
Listen to the prophet saying, “I will raise up the tabernacle of David that has fallen.” Actually, it has fallen; our human nature has had an irreparable fall and was in need of that powerful hand alone. For it was not possible to raise it up otherwise, unless he who fashioned it in the beginning stretched out a hand to it and formed it again from above by the regeneration of water and the Spirit. Behold, pray, the awesome and ineffable character of the mystery. He dwells always in this tabernacle, for he put on our flesh, not to put it off again but to have it always with him. If this were not so, he would not have deemed it worthy of his royal throne.1
The fact that he said there was no need for his disciples to fast as long as the bridegroom is with them illustrates the joy of his presence and the sacrament of the holy food, which no one need be without while he is present, that is, bearing Christ in the light of the mind. But once he is gone, Jesus says that they will fast, for all those who do not believe that Christ has risen will not have the food of life. By faith in the resurrection, the sacrament of the heavenly bread is received. Whoever is without Christ will be forsaken, fasting from the food of life.2
Now it was likely that the disciples of John the Baptist were also thinking highly of themselves as a result of John’s suffering. Because of this Jesus also put down this inflated conceit through what he said. Nevertheless he did not yet introduce the topic of the resurrection. For it was not yet the right time. For the topic that Jesus did introduce, that he who was thought to be human would die, was only natural. But the topic of his resurrection was beyond the natural.3
Once again Jesus constructs his argument with illustrations from common life. And what he says is something like this: “The disciples have not yet become strong. They still need a lot of help at a level they can understand. They have not yet been regenerated by the Spirit. At this time there is no need to dump on them a load of commandments while they are still in this learning period.” He therefore proceeded gradually to set maxims and precepts for his disciples within the times of their step-by-step maturing, as they were better prepared to receive them. This was to teach them later to deal very gently with others, when the time would come that they would be taking this message to the whole world and receiving as disciples all sorts of persons.4
What he is saying is this: Until a person has been reborn and, having put aside the old person, puts on the new person because of my passion, he cannot observe right fasting and the precepts of temperance. Otherwise, through undue austerity one may lose even the faith one seems to possess. Christ gave two examples: the garment and the old and new wineskins. The old ones denote the scribes and Pharisees. The patch of shrunk cloth and the new wine signify the gospel precepts, which the Jews cannot observe, else a worse tear is made.5
- HOMILIES ON JOHN 11. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 116). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 9.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 179–180). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 30.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 180). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 30.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 181). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 1.9.17. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 181). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.