What do you call it when a pirate updates his/her iPhone? An iPATCH...(and, that’s when the readership of Fr. Jacob’s Hatchery hit rock bottom).
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus offers a parable in relation to fasting that involves patchwork. In Mark 2:15, we see Jesus sitting at table with “tax collectors and sinners” after Levi’s call. Apparently, self-righteous fuddy-duddies got invites, because the ever-watchful Pharisees keep an eye on Jesus’ and his apostles’ caloric intake throughout the festivities; who doesn’t love nosy neighbors?! Then some of John the Baptist’s disciples and Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (Mark 2:18)? We can reasonably assume that the day of Levi’s feast landed on a day set apart for fasting by the Pharisees & JBap’s disciples. This was a religious custom picked up by the Pharisees that gained a lot of ground in the first century, and it eventually became a public display of one’s seriousness concerning the religious law. For Jesus, who preached in synagogues and who worked miraculous signs, to not fast would have been rather shocking. We can forgive the Pharisees et al. for their puzzlement: How can someone who isn’t taking the law seriously – in their mind’s understanding of what it means to take the law seriously – present himself as a holy rabbi let alone the Messiah?
Jesus responds with a few parable-metaphors, but the patches story strikes me. After describing himself in terms of the bridegroom delighting in a wedding banquet with his wedding party, Jesus spins a cautionary yarn about needlework: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made” (Mark 2:21). Wow! Right? Just, wow. Wait...what? Is it okay if I’m honest for a moment? Are you seated? (Please tell me you’re not driving and reading!) Recently, when I read this, I was confused about what a patch had to do with fasting. I was corn-fused, as they say (which is a step above “confused” but a notch below “flabbergasted”). Why did Jesus bring up this insight about crafts and cloths and patches when asked about fasts?
ASIDE: When you come across a passage or section of Scripture that corn-fuses you, remember what the apostles did when they scratched their heads in wonder. “And when he was alone, those who were about him with the Twelve asked him concerning the parables” (Mark 4:10). Those closest to Jesus asked him (we would call that prayer today), “What in the world are you talking about?” when they didn’t “get” it. Jesus liked that, because it meant (1) they listened and (2) they trusted him enough to ask. Mark goes on to tell us about Jesus’ desire to share the meaning of his words with us: “privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (Mark 4:34b). When you’re not sure what is going on in a Scripture passage or section, pray. Take time to sit with the word of God. Ponder how the images, story line, place, characters, etc. intertwine with other parts of the Bible. How does that section fit into those before and after? Do you have a study Bible with notes and references to other parts of the Bible? If so, use those notes and look up those references. You will be amazed at the great fruit given when we do not rush God’s word but truly give our time and heart over to Him in His word.
The image in that short verse – Mark 2:21 – speaks about an attempt to fix a tear in a cloth. A “wound” in a garment took place and the owner wants to “heal” that hurt. When we place that insight about the image alongside fasting, we begin to catch Jesus’ point, I think. When fasting becomes simply an externalized practice that, of itself, signifies to the practitioner their own righteousness, then it attempts to “heal” a “wound” with a new patch on an old cloth. Put another way, fasting – the unshrunk (new) cloth patch – is good and helpful, but when applied in the wrong way it will make the “wound” worse. Throughout the Scriptures, fasting represented acts of humility and repentance. The Pharisees seem to take the fast and place it like a badge of pride over their torn garment. Thus, Jesus warns them about their fasting. Instead of drawing them to inner healing and freedom, their fast makes them prideful; the very problem they want to fix is getting worse, pride.
The point Jesus makes, this warning about pride in our devotional life, can help us today. Jesus does not tell the Pharisees that his disciples will never fast or shouldn’t fast. The opposite is true, Jesus states that his disciples will fast when he departs from them. These religious practices can open us up to the healing presence of the Trinity. But we must keep our eyes on Jesus while fasting or praying other devotions. Our prayer life isn’t meant for show and we don’t need to prove anything to God. When we live our life in communion with the Trinity, the saving love of Jesus gives us new hearts and fills us with his Holy Spirit (Mark 2:22). If we find that our prayer life and devotions lead to a self-righteous attitude that cramps our compassion towards people we regard as (and who very well may be) “sinners” - you know, the people Jesus had no problem loving, defending, saving, and dining with, those people who are sinners – then we need a “heart check.” We might be putting a new patch on an old garment that needs renewing inside-out. Better to hit the Pause Button on a devotional practice and reevaluate our attitude and mindset, bringing ourselves before the tender mercy of Jesus, then go on making the wound in our heart worse by our efforts to “fix” it.
Fr. Jacob Bearer is a Catholic priest. He's about 6' to 6'4'' tall depending on which Convenient Store he's exiting. Although he enjoys kidney beans in chili, Fr. Jacob does not like baked beans and counts this as one of the toughest blotches on his character. He's been the administrator of SS. Edward's and Lucy's since January of 2022. Thank God for the Hatchery...this is a place where the author can share thoughts and ideas that don't quite seem right for the bulletin and won't exactly make for a homily (except for the times when the homily is posted with a sound file or used for a blog post). God bless you...and the hatchery.
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