Don't put new wine into old wineskins,
Painted by Nicole Murray,
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 2014
© Nicole Murray Art, Australia

Don't put new wine into old wineskins,
Painted by Nicole Murray,
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 2014
© Nicole Murray Art, Australia

Gospel of 20 January 2020

Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins

Mark 2:18-22

One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!’

Reflection on the Painting

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about the disciples of John the Baptist being upset with Jesus' disciples because they did not fast. Fasting was one of the three most important religious duties, along with prayer and almsgiving. Jesus is giving a simple explanation: there is a time for fasting and a time for feasting (or celebrating). Jesus wants us to understand that to walk with Him as a disciple, is to experience a joyful relationship which is similar to that of a wedding party, where we celebrate with the groom and bride their wedding bliss. But there also comes a time when we must bear our crosses. To be a true disciple of Christ means there is a time for rejoicing in the Lord's presence and a time for seeking the Lord with humility, through fasting. We discussed this need for sacrifice in yesterday’s reflection.

This means we need an open mind and a mind that balances fasting and feasting. Jesus goes on by using an image familiar to his audience: new and old wineskins.  In Jesus' times, wine was stored in wineskins, not bottles. New wine was still fermenting and then poured into skins.  The gases exerted pressure on these skins. New wine skins were elastic enough to take the pressure, but old wine skins easily burst because they were hard. So, what did Jesus mean by this comparison?  Is it as simple as Jesus prompting us to reject the old in place of the new?  No, again he is asking us to find a balance. Just as there is a right place and a right time for fasting and for feasting, so there is a right place for the old as well as the new. Look at Scripture for example. How impoverished we would be if we only had the Old Testament or the New Testament, rather than both. In order to do this balancing act we are called to, we need wisdom. We can find this wisdom through prayer and the Holy Spirit helping us.

Jesus wants our hearts and minds to be like new wine skins - expandable, open and ready to receive the new wine of the Holy Spirit! But this without throwing away the old wine skins… Balance requires continual effort… Balance requires prayer…

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