The Naked Man – pt. 23

wineskins

“So you’re still encouraging your fellow countrymen to break faith with their people – and with their God?” Benyamin’s voice rang out across the courtyard as he stepped from the shadows by the gateway. “It’s not enough that you take this ‘gospel’ of yours to gentile cities? You have to return to the City of David with it – the city you abandoned – and then dare to disparage those of us who have fought to defend our people, and the Law of G_d?” Mark could see Benyamin’s fists clench and unclench as he spoke. Rachel’s hand flew to her mouth and she like everyone else turned to see how Mark would respond.

“My brother,” Mark said after a long moment of silence. “Come. Will you drink the cup of welcome with us?” Mark poured wine from a skin into a cup and began to walk towards Benyamin. Benyamin held up his hand, halting Mark in his tracks. “Don’t,” Benyamin said. “I came to speak with our mother. I should have known you would all be gathered here.” Miryam made to get up, but Benyamin gestured for her to remain seated. “I will return in the morning.” He turned on his heel and strode out of the courtyard. Mark surveyed the faces turned towards him. He might have expected to see embarrassment for him reflected there, but many if not most of those gathered had had similar encounters with family members, and so he saw mostly sorrowful or wry expressions.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.” He looked at the cup and wineskin in his hands. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” He placed the cup and skin on a table. “My brother is not alone in his critique of the Way, as you are all well aware. No doubt you – like Jesus’ disciples – face pressure to follow the teachings of the pharisees. After all, they have great expertise in our ancestral laws and traditions. But the social practice of the Kingdom is far different from the cosmetic social piety of the Pharisees’ holiness code. Even if their practices – such as fasting – appear to be ‘novel’ or even progressive, in truth they are old, and are designed to maintain the rigid social boundaries between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘sinner’ that Jesus rejected, and which Jesus continually transgressed. If we are tempted to adopt their practices for any reason – even if only to avoid their scrutiny – then we are in danger of jeopardizing the mission with which we have been entrusted. That is to say, we risk the ‘worse tear’ that Jesus spoke of, and will lose both the wine and the skins.”

Mark picked up a small loaf from the table, and held it for everyone to see. “But if Jesus drew the pharisees’ attention for his unorthodox practice of table fellowship, and for refusing to keep their code of public piety, including fasting, he also drew their attention for a third practice that is central to the pharisees’ holiness code – keeping the sabbath…”

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