August 20, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s good news comes from Mark 2:21-22.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
A lot of men may not know this; surely most women do and that’s not a sexist statement. Not having any experience in sewing I didn’t know that a new piece of cloth will shrink when washed while the fabric it patches will not. So, the tear or hole becomes worse. Likewise, having no experience in making wine I didn’t know that as wine ferments in a closed container the gases expand and will break its container if weak. As leather ages it typically becomes brittle and subject to breaking. Jesus’ listeners would have known all these things and hence understood his message instinctively. Jesus was telling them and us that his goal was to preserve the old while also not just making room for the new but becoming new.
The Hebrew scriptures still applied as well as God’s commands, but he had come to be the living word of God and God’s love for us. He came as new wine that required new wineskins. We had to open our minds to a new way of thinking about and relating to God. He had come not just to talk about what God wants for us, but to show us in his living day-to-day through his encounters with every kind of person how much God loves us. We had to clear away the clutter of rules and regulations and the mindset of earlier generations that perceived God as a distant, judgmental God to be feared and replace it with the understanding of a God who loves unconditionally, who forgives everything, and who is not to be outdone in generosity. We had to forget what we had been taught about God as children even. We had to learn for ourselves who God is and how much He desires to have a mutually loving relationship with us.
I’m finding that I’m like an old wineskin. A new love relationship cannot be poured into an old wineskin; it is forever in danger of bursting. I am welded to old ways of relating — for good and ill. I cling to old notions and expectations that imprison both me and a new love. I am bringing the old me into a new relationship with the same bad, destructive attitudes and behaviors. I am verging on losing both my comfortable, accustomed way of being and the promise of a new, enlivening relationship. I can’t have it both ways. I can’t remain stuck in my old way of thinking and doing. Obviously, I can’t change and become someone entirely new. That’s not what Jesus is saying to me. However, he is telling me that I have to open my mind to the different demands of a new relationship. I have to let go of judging by old standards; I have to let go of old expectations that don’t work in a new relationship. I have to become young again with the capacity to expand in response to the fermentation of a new relationship.
I think this is why Christianity largely wasn’t embraced by the Jews. Most Jews remained Jews. Jesus’ message found its audience among the new wineskins of the Gentiles into which the new wine could be poured. Think about the argument in the early church about whether Gentiles had to be circumcised. It took Peter and the others a long time to change their thinking about this issue which was rooted in Jewish culture but really has nothing whatsoever to do with Christian faith.
Change is really hard, almost impossible for me. But that’s what the gospels challenge me to every single day. It’s only in God’s love through His Son Jesus that I am able to change at all. It goes back to the poem I quoted yesterday. “Don’t change. I love you just as you are….Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.” It’s such a paradox! God loves me just as I am; I don’t have to change. But as I try to fully embrace the gospel message in my mind and in my heart, I find myself wanting to change, to be more like Jesus. I so want to be a new wineskin, but it is so painfully difficult to give up my old, familiar, comfortable, secure wineskin. I just pray that my desire to hold the new wine will enable me to become a new wineskin.