“’No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’” Mark 2:21-22
Opening Points to Ponder:
How do you usually react to change? Do you like it or endure it?
How does your reaction to change usually manifest itself?
Have you ever had a major upheaval to your way of life that you later appreciated? Why?
Old & New
You might wonder why I’m opening with questions about change but that will become apparent later. Up front though, we need to understand why Jesus told this particular parable because it’s hard to decipher correctly unless you know what went before it.
After Levi (called Matthew), who was a professional tax gatherer, had responded to Christ’s call to follow him, he invited Jesus to his house for dinner. Of course Matthew wanted all his friends to be in attendance too just like any of us would. “Hey, I want you all to meet this great guy who changed my life.”
The religious leaders of the day disapproved. “And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?’” (Mark 2:16) Well, why was he? They were certainly careful never to harbor such unsavory associations. After all, didn’t scripture itself validate them? Hadn’t David said: “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.” (Psalm 26:4-5)
When Jesus overheard their criticism he told them why. “’It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Mark 2:17) And when they then continued by complaining that his disciples weren’t fasting like they were, he told them that he was the bridegroom and the time for fasting would come after he was gone.
All of that is the set up to the parable. So what was his point regarding the old garment and the wineskins? Was he chastising them for being judgmental? Was he pushing back on them for their criticisms? Was he justifying his association with sinners? NO. He didn’t address those things in his parable (even though they were true) because that was not the root problem. He saw deeper into the hearts and motivations of the Pharisees than they could imagine.
The real issue that caused such a stirring of emotional rancor in the Jewish leaders was that Jesus was rocking their religious boat and was in fact about to irretrievably smash it. He was ushering in a new order – the New Covenant — and was telling them that the old order was beyond repair. Ouch!
The Jews had been waiting such a long time for their Messiah but when he finally showed up they were dry and cold and were all about the letter instead of the spirit of the law. They couldn’t hold what Jesus had: they were an old garment, an old wineskin unfit for the new wine. Can you imagine how offensive that was to them?
When Jesus dined with sinners he upset the religious sensibilities of the day. When he healed the sick he disturbed the equilibrium they were settled in. When he cast out demons he made them uncomfortable. When he drew huge crowds after himself instead of them he provoked jealousy. He had the real goods; they were pretenders.
Aren’t you glad that was all about them and not about us? Oh, wait a minute. Does that parable have any relevance for us today? Hmmm. If not, why was it even recorded? It’s in three of the four gospels. What we need to ask ourselves is what does an old garment look like today—what does an old wineskin look like?
One of the ways we can do that is to examine ourselves in light of how we respond when things in our “religious” world change. I remember being in a Sunday school class one time where there was a discussion about how you could tell whether or not a church was gripped with legalism. Someone said, “If you want to find out just change something.” How true.
How supple and pliable are we? Let’s face it. To some extent we all get stuck in our ways and then we often claim those are God’s ways. What sinners of today do we smugly avoid? Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner and met with the sinners on their own turf but don’t we often expect the sinners to come to us, into our churches? If they do come in don’t we expect them to dress like us, speak like us and accept our music style?
Longing for the New Wine
Has your religious boat ever been rocked? It could be something simple or something monumental that triggers it but suddenly your wineskin feels pretty dry and brittle. You might react with criticism or disapproval or downright rejection of the thing that set you off.
If that happens it just might be a clue that YOU are the one Jesus is talking to today in this parable of the old garment and the old wineskin. After all, we have been living with the New Covenant Jesus instituted for more than 2000 years. Isn’t there danger of us becoming just like the Pharisees? Are we any better than them? We can become bogged down in the letter and forget the spirit of the law just like they did. What a shame.
Rather, do you long for more of Jesus? Fresh fire? More anointing? Refreshing for your soul? Examine your wineskin. If it’s old and cracked and inflexible, maybe it’s time to throw that old thing in the garbage and buy a new one.
Closing Challenge Points
Upon reflection, do you think you have ever confused doctrine with style?
If you find points of inflexibility in your spiritual walk, how willing are you to give them up?
Which kind of “sinners” would it be hard for you to dine with? After examining yourself, would you now be willing to try?