21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22 NRSV)
Jesus uses common wisdom to make a spiritual point – but what about? In the immediate context he is being criticized because his disciples do not fast as others do. An incident where they eat grain on the Sabbath follows these words.
Cloth – old cloth would have shrunk already from washing.
Wineskins – wine fermenting in a new skin would stretch the skin but wine in an old wineskin would stretch and burst the already stretched skin.
Jesus does not advocate throwing away the old skin or the old cloak but rather matching new with new and old with old as the context requires. In a sense he puts before them a contrast between new and old as much as a call for new alone.
I have sometimes missed the point here – Jesus did not so “Do not fast” or “A wise person throws away old wine skins.” In some ways it makes things more difficult doesn’t it? It would be simpler if Jesus had said “Only use new wineskins” or “The old wineskins are perfectly adequate.” But he didn’t.
When God is doing a new thing in me, in a church, in a culture or context, new wineskins are needed. We’ve seen “contemporary” worship music emerge as a new wineskin in our time and become its own old wineskin for instance.
Where does God want to put new wine out – and therefore I need new skins as much as I may like the old? Where, on the other hand, is the cloak in need of repair with an appropriate piece of cloth?
God is often doing a new thing but not always. Sometimes we are called to go over (again) familiar ground, revisit old and treasured places – or old places that are torn like the cloak.
Lent as a time of discernment is time to ponder such things. Where is the old cloak serviceable or where is new wine being poured? Let the Lord show us…
O Lord, sometimes you want me to patch with the old cloak that fits and works so well. Sometimes you pour new wine and ask me to provide a fitting container for it. I thank you for both – and pray for the wisdom of your Spirit to know the difference so the wine is not spilled and the cloak is not ruined. Amen.