The more I follow Jesus, the more my assumptions about Him get blown up.
There’s this little passage in the gospel of Luke where Jesus is questioned by some of the leading religious leaders of his day about why His disciples don’t seem to follow the same rules that theirs do. Apparently it was customary for really religious people to fast up to two days a week and yet Jesus’s disciples seem to be in feast mode all the time. It’s interesting to me that wherever Jesus goes there seems to be celebrating, partying, eating and drinking. And so they asked him why His disciples were doing this.
Jesus answers with a parable in two parts. First, there’s this example of a patch cut from a new garment and sewn on an old one. He says that by doing this we ruin the new thing as well as the old. The new garment now has a hole in it, and the old garment looks weird with a patch that doesn’t fit or match. The second example is of wineskins. He says that no one pours new wine into old wineskins, because if they do then the old wineskins (which have already expanded with the fermenting of wine) will burst as the new wine ages. Again, the new thing (new wine) will be ruined and so will the old thing (the wineskins).
Here’s the interesting thing. Neither the new thing nor the old thing are bad things. They are just different things.
So why this response to their question?
I think Jesus is basically saying, “Look, I’m doing something new here. The old ways that you thought about faith and your relationship to God don’t really work with the new thing that I’m doing.” The old thing isn’t necessarily bad, but neither is the new thing. And this is where I find this to be so relevant. It’s popular amongst some to dismiss the way that people used to worship, the way they did church, or the way they thought about God as if those ways were some how faulty. Many others will look at new expressions of faith, new ways of doing church, or new ways of thinking about God and dismiss those as well. The reality is that the old wineskins aren’t bad. Neither are the new ones.
But let’s be clear – Jesus is doing something new. He’s not satisfied with the old wineskins.
I’ve gone through stages in my life where old wineskins have given way to new ones. Some of those things are superficial (I gave up my PC for the world of Apple, for example), and some of them have been quite profound. The Jesus I know today is not the same Jesus that I was sure I knew ten years ago, or even five years ago. And my guess is that the Jesus I know today is not the same Jesus I will know in five years. Or at least I hope so. (There might be some who would quickly say – “wait, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Yes that is true, but I would hope that as I get to know him more that my understanding of him continues to expand.)
I’m so thankful for the old wineskins. I’m thankful for the black and white version of faith of my childhood. I’m thankful for the foundation that provided for me. I’m thankful for the youth group faith of my teenage years. I’m thankful for the ways my faith grew as I was exposed to more of the world and the poverty and suffering I’ve seen. And I’m thankful for the faith of my college years that shaped my love for Scripture and discovery of truth.
But today my faith is more nuanced. It’s less black and white. It’s less stringent and less fixed. It’s more flexible. I think it is expanding as Jesus continues to pour new wine into these new wineskins. I love Jesus more than ever. I trust Him more than ever. I’m more certain of Him than ever. And yet, I’m less certain of all the details. And I’m ok with that.
The unfortunate thing is that many of us choose to resist new wine and new wineskins. The passage from Luke ends with this phrase: “No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'” At first I really didn’t understand this. Here Jesus has just talked about what He is doing as “new wine” and yet this verse says that the “old wine” is better. But I don’t think Jesus is saying that the old is better. He’s simply stating what is common to most of us. That is, that most of us will choose what is familiar over what is new. It’s why every generation believes that their cartoons were the best cartoons, that the athletes they watched were better than the ones today, that the old days were better than these ones.
My hope and prayer is that I won’t ever become resistant to the new wine. I don’t ever want to be someone who wants to go back to Egypt rather than pressing forward to the promised land (as did the Israelites in the Old Testament). I don’t want to be on the opposite end of the new thing Jesus is doing. Not that the old thing was bad. It wasn’t. But because if Jesus is choosing to expand the kingdom even further than I thought was possible, I want to be part of that.