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Old wineskins were once New wineskins

“And you don’t put new wine in old, cracked bottles: you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage Wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine” (Luke 5:38-39)

I am not a wine connoisseur, but I have been around enough to know that there is a way that people speak that shows they are very familiar with what an aged, good wine should taste like. I remember being in a very fine wine cellar with my husband and we saw wines that were really old and cost thousands of dollars and I turned to my husband and said, “If it is that old, how do you know it is not off.” He was embarrassed that I said it so loud with people around able to hear and whisked me out of the room as quickly as he could.

So, admitting that I am a ‘new sweet wine’ type of girl, I have always found the statement in Luke unsettling. As someone who has always known and loved God, at my age now I might be considered old and a part of the old wineskins’ world, which disturbed me even more.

Is Jesus saying the old wine is better or the new wine?

As I sat within my life group unpacking these verses together, around the room were people of varying ages and stages of spiritual growth. I shared that this last verse always confused me a little and it felt like it was contradicting what the previous verses said. One of our youngest (22 years old), newest Christians spoke up and shared how she saw it and it was such an “aha” moment for me. She suggested it was the way (inflection/expression) you read the verse, with a sense of making a statement, with a slight hint of questioning. Not as innocent as me saying “that the wine might be off,” but rather, Jesus pushing into how set they were in their ways, that they were just not able to see the new wine Jesus was bringing.

The New King James puts it this way: No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”

Of course, we must read these verses from the context that Jesus was surrounded by Pharisees at the time. He talked in plain visuals about being a doctor helping the sick, what you do when you are celebrating a wedding, how best to patch clothes and how to best keep new wine. The whole time he is cleverly and yet ever so softly offending the religious leaders. It wasn’t long after these conversations that the Pharisees began planning to kill Jesus (Luke 6:11).

“No, Jesus, insists the Gospel of the Kingdom must not be hindered by the man-made rules of the Pharisees' religion. It must be free to work its power unfettered. The New Wine may not be as smooth to the tongue, and finely aged as old wine. It may be a bit sharp and unrefined. But it is alive. You can't contain it in old structures. You must find new wineskins for it or none at all.”

The sad thing is that the old wineskins were once new wineskins. You can’t have old wine unless it was once new. So, Jesus is not saying the old wine and old wineskins do not have a place. Tradition and the “way we have always done it” has a part to play in the whole story. I was reminded in that room that night, that we all have the potential to become old wineskins. How quickly can we come at daily life thinking we have it all sorted out and know the truth and suddenly find ourselves like the Pharisees, crucifying the one who came to set us free.

As the community I belong to longs to walk together across the ages I believe there has to be a way to blend the old and the new. I know it is not always an easy journey, but when I see it, it is beautiful. Maybe because the wineskins are more about our NEW heart being a renewed and an ever-refreshed container of his new wine, rather than an ageing body or institution! While I do believe it always begins with a personal change of heart, at some point it must begin to seep into us, challenging the institutional ways we have come to do things that have become “cracked bottles.”

As I read so many stories in the Bible, I see the constant struggle with the old and the new. Stephen being stoned by the religious people because of the things he was saying about Jesus (Acts 7), Paul’s journey from one of persecuting Christians in the name of God to him being stopped in his tracks by Jesus himself (Acts 9), Peter’s challenge of reaching out to Gentiles (Acts 10). The Early Church is full of these stories. The old wineskins standing staunchly in their understanding of truth and Jesus simply saying, you are just “cracked bottles”.

The Intergenerational missional faith community journey has its greatest critics and blockers in what I would call the “old wineskins,” that once were the “new wineskins.” The greatest barriers to thinking and re-thinking in this NEW, yet OLD way, are those who for the past few hundred years have created old wineskins that they now prefer. They are the ones with the power and position and consider that they have much to lose if they are to be open to new wine.

Without trying to sound judgemental, I believe that those who are leaders in the Church, those who hold power and position, must always be wary of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. There were many who not only missed it but were on the wrong side of history, as they crucified the very God they were trying to serve. Lord, I do not want to be on the wrong side and am thankful that grace abounds.

What are the old wineskins that Jesus is asking us to think about in our own traditions/faith communities?

What is the new wine we need to be open to in our own faith traditions/faith communities?

What is the old wine we must savour and appreciate and honour?

What do the new wineskins look like and how can we create those spaces where the new wine can flow?

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