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Friday, May 13, 2016
Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–39
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’” (NRSV)
Although confusing on the surface, this provocative “new wineskins” parable is one of my favorite teachings from Jesus. Challenged by the Pharisees about the minutiae of the social and religious behaviors of his disciples (They eat with tax collectors! They do not fast!), Jesus instead invites the Pharisees and scribes to pull back and recognize how truly radical his teaching is. This new way of being cannot comfortably coexist with the social and religious norms of the day, Jesus argues, or else the “new wine will burst the old skins and will be spilled.” So too the old wineskins cannot be modified by attempting to place pieces of new skin over the holes and cracks; instead, Jesus’ teaching—this new wine—will inevitably create new social and religious norms that differ from those of the past.
Given the time frame that the Gospel of Luke would have been written (in the years 70–85), there is certainly a polemical aspect to this saying for the early Christian communities. However, this parable is also a fantastic reminder of how transformative our faith should be if we are following Jesus’ teaching. Too often we try to patch new wineskin onto our beliefs, selecting the bits and pieces we find satisfying or convenient, only to find that our faith feels like a strange amalgam of our own creation. Jesus is challenging us to leave our old wineskins—the calcified norms of the day—behind and to instead embody his teachings in whole.
Dear Lord, challenge me to embody your teachings even when they seem at odds with the norms that are all around me. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
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