One of the most familiar passages in scripture is Jesus’s famous line about not putting new wine into old wineskins. It’s one of those images with which I was always familiar, but it never fit in with my world. I mean, how many of us have a wineskin? Who among us tries to put any kind of wine into a thing called a wineskin? Wine comes in bottles. From Meijer. Where we can get our Winter White and Great Lakes Red for $6.
The image is about relationships and about the disciples. And particularly in response to a charge that Jesus isn’t training his disciples right.
The charge comes from some unnamed people who notice something. They notice that John the Baptizer’s disciples are fasting. And the Pharisees’ disciples are fasting. But Jesus’s aren’t. So they ask Jesus why not?
Jesus refers to not fasting while the groom is present, because as long as he’s around, there’s celebration, right?
But then he gets to the second reason. That these disciples are different. They aren’t like John’s disciples or the Pharisees’ disciples. Because if you put a new patch on an old cloak, it would come apart – it wouldn’t take. Or if you put new wine in old wineskins, they would burst. You put new wine in new wineskins.
These disciples are new wine and need new wineskins. What would fasting do but burst under the pressure of these new disciples.
It is hard to think of these men who lived 2,000 years ago, who built what would become the church, the most prosperous religious movement in history, could ever be thought of as “new wine”. At the time, they were, and Jesus was preparing them to be a different kind of Jewish leader. Something that the existing structure may not be able to handle – it may burst under them.
Still, these dudes lived a really long time ago. There’s nothing new about them.
And yet around us, there is new wine. And these new wineskins offered in the first century as the gospel and in 6th century as monasticism and in Middle Ages as mystics and theologies and movements and in the 16th the new wineskin of Protestantism, each one a revolution. Each one a new wineskin made to hold new wine.
The power of this image is that Jesus is responsible for the wine and he’s compelling the people to see that the old wineskins won’t work. We need new wineskins. And in every generation we can see the marks of Christ in our wines and wineskins.
And today, we are living in an age of abundant New Wine. Of people who don’t fit into our old wineskins of Catholicism and Protestantism. They aren’t comfortable as Charismatics or Evangelicals. They aren’t comfortable as Southern Baptists or United Methodists. We have people searching for wineskins which will hold them and serve their needs.
And we have New Wine which is sick and tired of all this talk of wineskins. They are sick of being collected and numbered and named; pigeonholed and catalogued. They recognize that wine isn’t to be stored in a temperature-controlled refrigerator, stored on their sides and without exposure to direct sunlight, sitting quietly among the other bottles hoping one day to be opened.
No! They say Wine is for drinking! Where’s the party?
Those of us in the church; in the old wineskin business, maybe we ought to recognize that our job isn’t really to manufacture wineskins. It is to foster the drinking of wine.
Metaphorically of course.
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to discern a priority and focus on it.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent – Handout 1!