Last Sunday we reflected on the new life that forgiveness from God and from others can offer us. We saw that if we are the ones forgiven, we must change our ways so that we no longer offend; if we are the ones forgiving, we must refrain from bringing up time and again the offense that caused us to suffer. Today we look at this startling newness from a different point of view. We consider what we must leave behind as we move into this new way of living. The new life challenges us to rid ourselves of any selfish, cynical or destructive attitudes to which we have grown accustomed.
The words of Hosea are both tender and demanding. The spousal imagery depicts a passionate God wooing Israel. This courtship occurred in the desert, a place of deprivation. Nothing there was to compete for Israel’s attention, for God required total commitment. The relationship forged there was to be grounded in righteousness and justice, in love and mercy, and it was to last forever. Who could possibly turn down such an offer? Still, it required a change of attitude and behavior—and this has always been difficult.
The Gospel reading distinguishes even more dramatically between the newness to which we are called and the old life that we must leave behind. It is the difference between sturdy new fabric and cloth that has already lost its shape and quality. It is the difference between robust wine and disintegrating wineskins. This new life of God’s forgiveness and love cannot be contained within the negative patterns of the old life. It is just too vibrant, too brimming with possibilities.
The Christians of Corinth underwent this transformation of life. Their change, despite their living in a seaport city notorious for its licentiousness, was so remarkable that Paul considered them his “letter of recommendation.”
Through baptism, each of us is born into the same new life of Christ, a life that brings with it new responsibilities. We too are called to live lives of righteousness and justice, of love and mercy. As in Corinth, these attitudes and behaviors are not always cherished in our world. Too often society directs us to “Do unto others before they can do unto you” or to live by the adages “Don’t tread on me” or “Look(ing) out for No. 1.” How will we respond to our call? Will we embrace the opportunity of a new life? Will someone ever be able to boast of our fidelity to the Gospel?