This is a sermon that I presented on the 8th Sunday after the Epiphany (27 February 2000) at Walker Valley United Methodist Church. The scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 2: 14 – 20, 2 Corinthians 3: 1 – 6, and Mark 2: 13 – 22.
Whenever someone comes up with a new idea or proposes a change, they suggest that they are offering a new paradigm. But the word “paradigm” means more than just the presentation of a new idea or a change in the way something is done. To the best of my knowledge, the term paradigm was first used by Thomas Kuhn to explain the shift in thinking that occurs in science when the present way of thinking does not provide a reasonable explanation for the evidence that is presented.
For Kuhn, the change in the view of the world from an Aristotelian viewpoint, i.e. the earth as the center of the solar system, to the one proposed by Galileo and Copernicus where the sun was the center of the solar system was such a paradigm. The latter changes in physics by Newton and Einstein also represented such paradigm shifts. Each of these shifts or changes requires that we completely change the ways that we think, not just modify what we do.
The Gospel reading for today is the beginning of such a shift in viewpoint. First, Jesus is questioned about his association with sinners because he has chosen to eat dinner with Matthew, the tax collector who had just been chosen as one of the apostles. For the Pharisees and others who considered themselves righteous, to eat with sinners was itself a sin. But Jesus pointed out through his illustration of the physician who heals only the sick, He had come to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance. Repentance means a change of mind that recognizes the need of a Savior and recognizes Jesus Christ as the only Savior.
The second point about this shift in thinking comes from the question about fasting. Now, Jesus had given his followers guidelines about fasting during the Sermon on the Mount.
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6: 16 – 18)
So Jesus was not against fasting. But since both the disciples of John the Baptizer and the Pharisees fasted, perhaps twice each week as described in Luke 18: 12, it was assumed that it was necessary for the disciples of Jesus to fast as well.
But through the parable of patching an old piece of clothing with a new piece of cloth and putting of new wine into old wineskins, Jesus was saying that the old rules could not apply. Since repentance of sins and acceptance of Jesus as the Savior was a new way of life, following the old rules could not work.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and spoke of the Spirit and the law, he was talking about this change in the way of life. In 2 Corinthians 3: 6 Paul wrote, “who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The letter to which Paul refers is a reference to the old covenant, founded through the Ten Commandments written on stone. The letter kills because all break the law, and the penalty is death. But the new covenant through Jesus and the Holy Spirit offers us life. The comparison of cloths and wineskins was made to show that Jesus’ message was a new one and part of the new covenant and that it could not fit into the old mold of the Old Testament.
In essence, Jesus was establishing a set of new rules by which to live by rather than simply continuing trying to follow the old rules. This is what a paradigm is all about. You may have a new idea but if it is carried out within the framework of the old ways, then it isn’t really a paradigm.
I think that the reasons that the Pharisees had a problem with Jesus’ message, as some people due even today is that, they were not willing to give up the present in order to gain the future. To make a shift in thinking such as what Jesus proposed required a certain amount of trust and a willingness to give up the old ways. When Paul wrote the second letter to the Corinthians, he expressed the thought that his own trust in Christ was sufficient for what he was to do. In verse 4, the word trust comes from the Greek for confidence. Paul did not need the exterior trappings or the rigorous life that the Pharisees followed because he trusted explicitly in Christ to make his own ministry effective.
And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 6)
Paul placed his confidence not in himself or his own abilities but in the Lord.
The covenant that the prophet Hosea spoke of was this new covenant. In the passage from the Old Testament for today, God says to the people of Israel through Hosea that he will take away the old ways of life and make a new covenant in the world. By using the term ‘husband’ instead of ‘master’ in verse 16, “On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband’, and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.” God is showing that a new relationship will exist and that the old ways of living will no longer work.
As long as we continue to think in the old ways, as long as we continue to feel that the only way to salvation is through a strict adherence to the law, it will be difficult for us to understand what Jesus had to offer. To understand the new covenant requires that we shift our thinking. It may not be that we need a moment such as that day on the road to Damascus when Saul became Paul, but there will be a time, like Wesley, where we feel the Holy Spirit’s presence. We can choose to ignore that calling or we can, like Wesley, open our hearts and allow the Spirit to come in. There is a choice and it is one that only you can make.