The news that Taittinger has bought land in Kent with the intention of growing English sparkling wine must have brought a lift to many hearts this morning. Benedictines and champagne are, of course, old friends (think Dom Pérignon); so it is nice to know that there will be a few more bubbles winking at the brim of English glasses — perhaps even, on occasion, monastic glasses — in a few years’ time. Before anyone decides to tap out a disapproving comment, please remember that Christ was a wine-bibber, as today’s gospel makes plain (Matthew 11. 16–19), and it strikes me as ludicrous to want to be holier than He.
But the bubble-busters are out in force this morning, too. Overweight middle-aged women like me are the latest target of well-intentioned attempts to improve our health and happiness by encouraging us to stay slim and trim. If only! I’m not sure, however, that a sugar tax will help us shed our excess poundage. Many of us in Britain live in the midst of abundance, and the problem is not so much one of ignorance about what is good for us as sheer lack of won’t power. We are increasingly kept alive by drugs that affect our metabolism, which compounds (pun intended) our problem. Now, however, we must feel gulilty, too; and guilt is one of the least useful emotions.
Today’s passage from Isaiah (Is. 48. 17–19) is full of regret. If only we had listened, if only we had done what was right. But though there is sadness there and a sense of wasted opportunities, there is no guilt. Our redeemer is the Holy One of Israel: he is our teacher and leader, the Suffering Servant who has borne all our iniquities. Jesus in the gospel does not condemn us for our fickleness, though he is very alert to the contradictions we express. We couldn’t take John’s austerities, but we don’t approve of Jesus’ party-going habit, either. We are bubbly one moment, bubble-busters the next. Maybe the challenge for today is to think more deeply about our own conduct. Does it stand up to the test of integrity? Are we truly following Christ, or our own version of him?