Stretching Toward The Kingdom (Mark 2:20-22)

In his reflection this week Fr. Thomas Mckenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission reminds us that “Jesus is bringing us a new world, the world of his Father’s Kingdom. It won’t fit snugly over the previous forms of serving God and neighbor – and as a matter of fact, will crack them open if they don’t loosen and allow in the freshness.”

A key theme in a recent workshop on intercultural living was stretching – the oftentimes painful effort needed to expand our perspectives and widen our view of what true and valuable. Coming to understand and then appreciate how others view their world requires a lot more than gaining a concept. It asks us to work through the fears of stepping into unknown spaces and to push out against the boundaries of present experience.

When a person doesn’t stretch a worldview but hunkers down inside it, nothing ever changes, nothing novel enters. Keeping tight and secure boundaries is a formula not just for isolation but also for resisting anything that’s different.  No stretching, no ability to take in the newly given riches.

And isn’t that what Jesus touches on in Mark’s second chapter? If the cloth is old and rigid, any newer more pliable fabric will pull away from it. If the wineskin is brittle and doesn’t bend, it won’t withstand the expansion any new wine brings.

What Jesus is bringing is a new world, the world of his Father’s Kingdom. It won’t fit snugly over the previous forms of serving God and neighbor – and as a matter of fact will crack them open if they don’t loosen and allow in the freshness.

The jostling that happened in the early Church is a good instance of this. Jesus proclaims that God’s plan is for everyone, Jew and Gentile, man and woman, slave and free.  But for some, the boundary of God’s reign was drawn primarily around Israel and couldn’t be expanded to take in its vastly wider scope. So buckling under the strain, the Jerusalem church eventually shrivels while the Gentile one prospers.

We see Vincent de Paul tugging at the old cloth of a tradition that all religious women should remain behind the walls of a cloister. Stirred by new needs of a new time, Vincent pushed against these structures and with his Confraternities and Daughters of Charity injected some of Jesus’ suppleness into the fixed forms of the day.

In these weeks of remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., similar lessons arise for race relations. The unbending wineskins of white privilege hold any number of assumptions about whom should be given first place. Dr. King’s challenge to insert more elasticity into the skin of that calcified view echoes Jesus’ overall call to keep extending the boundaries of the Kingdom’s justice.

The warmth of Jesus Spirit forever blows over frozen forms and practices of the status quo, softening them to take in the newness coming from The Father’s Hand. Though this stretching exacts its cost, is this not the price of “Thy Kingdom Come.”

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