We’re currently in the midst of redecorating some rooms. We’ve lived in our current house for ten years, and over time numerous walls have got marks which need a bit of touching up. The problem is that, even if we had bought some new paint which exactly matches the colour in theory, we all know what happens when a dab of fresh paint is applied to a wall which was painted a few years ago. The slight fading of the colour over time means that the new dab of paint will stand out worse than the slight mark it was covering over! Better to repaint completely – a completely fresh start.
Jesus refers to something similar in today’s passage: or rather, two examples which would be easy to recognise among his hearers. You don’t sow a new patch on an old piece of cloth, he says, and you don’t put new wine into an old wineskin. Try either of those things, and disaster awaits.
The underlying issue here is that Jesus appears to be breaking all the religious rules – at least, as far as the Pharisees’ understanding of their religion went. In the previous episode it was: ‘Jesus, why are you eating with all the wrong people?’ Today, it’s: ‘why aren’t your disciples fasting enough?’ Tomorrow, we’ll see them asking another question: ‘why are you breaking the Sabbath rules (as we understand them)?’
At this point we need to be clear that Jesus is not de-bunking the law. Elsewhere, he is very clear that God’s law is good and right, and is not being re-written. Rather, he is challenging their human interpretation of the law…. and also making the point that, when God breaks in and does a new thing, suddenly our eyes are opened to new ways of understanding God’s will and ways. Jesus is the ‘new wine’, and it’s simply too vibrant, too fresh, to be held within the old wineskins.
This is ‘the shock of the new.’ For the generation of religious leaders in Jesus’ day, brought up to revere the old ways, this radical new inbreaking of the kingdom of God – the kingdom which, after centuries of expectation, has now ‘come near’ – is all a bit hard to take in. But what Jesus wants is for his listeners to open their minds, to be willing to embrace that something new and incredibly exciting is happening.
It would be easy for us to judge them for it. But, if we’re honest, we can also see ourselves in those leaders. Let’s resolve to stay open to whatever God has in store for us. It might not be revolutionary, as it was for Jesus’ contemporaries; but there’s always more to learn about Jesus, new ways to grow in our relationship with him. Even if you’re teetotal, this kind of ‘new wine’ is for all of us! And may we drink deeply of it today, and in this season.
Dear Lord, of you three things I pray: to know you more clearly, to love you more dearly, and to follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.