Old Wineskins

Matthew 9:14-17
Amos 9:11-15 / Psa 85:9-14

“People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
(Matthew 9:17)

Death on the cross was the price
That Jesus paid for our sins . . .
Now that we’re renewed in Christ
“Why put new wine into old wineskins?”

Then the disciples of John approached Jesus and said, `Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9: 14-17)

Reflection

Even the disciples of John the Baptist felt uncomfortable with the disregard the apostles of Jesus were showing towards traditional Jewish practices, like washing, observing the Sabbath, and fasting as required by their Torah. They asked the Master one day, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?” But our Lord answered them with another question that they could not understand: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Prophesying His death, He told them: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Then our Lord added two more riddles: “No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. . .”

Our Lord was not disparaging the practice of fasting, nor trying to justify the ‘negligence’ of His disciples in this traditional belief of self-purification. What He was trying to point out to the followers of John the Baptist was that there was a proper time for everything. Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 states: “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven… a time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing…”

Had His disciples been concerned with such routine religious rituals that the Pharisees, Scribes and some followers of John were more preoccupied about, they would doubtless not be able to comprehend the parables and divine lessons that the Messiah was imparting to them day by day. It was hard enough understanding His words on a full stomach. Besides, our Lord knew that His disciples needed all the nourishment and strength for the initial mission that He was going to give to them. In the next chapter, we read about Jesus summoning His 12 apostles, and “… gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness” (Mt. 10:1). Clearly, this was not the time for fasting and meditation, but for concrete action.

It is interesting to note here that our Lord referred to Himself as “the bridegroom”. This is perhaps the reason why the Church is referred to as the “bride” of Christ. He also indicated to His listeners that their traditional religious mores were now “old torn cloak” and “old wineskin”. And His new teachings certainly could not be applied to their old beliefs. That was why they were puzzled by His preaching of “turning the other cheek” instead of “an eye for an eye”. Or forgiving one’s enemies seven times seventy-seven times instead of only seven. Or how the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourner, the hungry and thirsty and those who are persecuted could be happy and blessed.

As for us who now know these things, and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, are we to “put new wine into old wineskins?” Can we still feel comfortable in the old haunts we used to frequent? Or put in another way, now that we have become new wineskins in Christ, can we let old ways back into our life again, now that Christ has already renewed our life?

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