Matthew 9:14-17

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

Over the past several years I have noticed something troubling that I had not noticed before. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t “un-notice” it anymore. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on just what it was until I read something that finally gave me the vocabulary word that I was missing. Whataboutism.

Whataboutism is a rhetorical move that allows us to evade any uncomfortable issue by deflecting attention away from ourselves to someone else. There need not be any real or even logical connection between our behaviors and those to whom we deflect. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is how deftly we bludgeon our opponents (I would say conversation partners here but this kind of verbal sparring doesn’t even pretend to be meaningful discourse) with our whataboutism.

If you’re not familiar with this term, here’s an example. You tell your child that they need to be home by 10:00 PM. When they show up at 10:35 PM you express your displeasure and tell them what the consequences will be. They fire back at you – “10:00 PM is a ridiculous curfew. What about Tommy? His parents let him stay out until midnight.” Effective parents don’t bite. We’re not talking about Tommy or his parents, we are talking about you! Now you can see it. I hope you can never un-see it again.

The disciples of John approach Jesus with a whataboutism. We and the Pharisees fast. What about your disciples? Why don’t they fast? Jesus doesn’t bite. Jesus is not there to prop up an old system that has long ago lost its meaning and godly purpose. Jesus is about doing something radically new. He isn’t going to engage in a meaningless debate about the spirituality of “going without” when his purpose is to bring life and light into a dead and dark world.

Living at ground zero of Hurricane Harvey has been an emotionally trying experience for everybody. The newness that has come upon us is painful. Especially the newness of a once beautiful home becoming a soggy, moldy, shell, landscaped by a mountain of debris. This brings out the best in us and also the worst from us.

The public outcry against Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church has been appalling to me, yet not surprising. As far as I’m concerned, everyone had decisions to make about how they would handle the hurricane and flood. Osteen’s critics have him hit hard with whataboutism, all rooted in their ideas of Jesus. “You live in a mansion, what about Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head?” they cry with self-righteous indignation. You’re rich, what about Jesus who was poor and cared about the poor? That’s nothing new. It is just another way to evade the reality that many congregations are largely self-centered, serving only their own, throwing a few bones of generosity somewhere so they can feel good about themselves, yet are unwilling to risk really and truly putting the poor first, or attacking the systems that create and sustain poverty because that would mean really putting their own skin in the game.

I might have plenty of theological differences with Osteen but I also have great admiration for a ministry that has long proven willing to try new things, in new ways, to help new people come to a new place in their relationship and understanding of God. Most of that happens behind the scenes, away from the lights and cameras, in the lives of people. Which is what matters most.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you alone are our guide and model. You alone define what matters in our lives, what matters in the care we extend to others, what matters in our following you. Forgive us for holding too tightly to our precious old wineskins lest we waste the newness that you would bring into our lives. Encourage all of those who have lost so much. Give them patience and bring the support they need to recover. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 9:14-17”

  1. Carol Minehardt, Lamb of God Lutheran, Simpsonville, SC Says:

    This is a refreshing devotional showing that we are not the center of whatever it is that is happening. We are all a part of a much larger picture and Christ makes us aware of that by his response. It is best to not be so accusing of others for the speck in our eye may as well at times be a stone for the damage it can reap.
    Lord help us to seek your will in words and deeds. Much love to all healing from Harvey’s devastation. My prayers are with you.

  2. Matthew 9:14-17 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: The Bridegroom and Fasting | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten Says:

    […] Matthew 9:14-17 […]

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