My oncologist recently told me that the latest answer to the question of “how much exercise do I need” is one minute of exercise per day for each year of your life. For someone like me who has lived more than 60 years (!), I should be getting 60 minutes of exercise each day. Okay then! Incorporating my walking regime into my prayer and Bible reflection time has been a challenge, but the Lord has been good to show me a way that seems to be working on all counts. I am walking and listening to the Bible on my iPhone which kickstarts not only my metabolism but also my thoughts toward God and about His Kingdom.
Today I was walking and listening to Mark’s Gospel, one of my favorite portions of Scripture. I listened as far as Mark 2:22 and then kept going back and listening to the same verse over and over until I finally turned off the iPhone app and listened to the Holy Spirit as He began to speak to me about this same passage. 22 Jesus said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
The context for this saying is the second occasion in this chapter when Jesus irritated the religious ruling establishment. First, He upset the scribes by healing a paralyzed man and pronouncing to him, “Son, your sins have been forgiven.” Now in verse 22, He was responding to the Pharisees who challenged Him because His disciples were not practicing the discipline of fasting. He focused in on their limited mindset and said (in essence), “Come on, guys! Don’t you see that the disciples are like groomsmen who are with the Groom? It’s time to celebrate, not time to fast. Get with the program! Start thinking right! Get yourself ready for the NEW KINGDOM!”
This is when He brings up the new wine in old wineskins. In ancient Israel, grapes were pressed in the winepress and left in vats for the fermentation process which began immediately. If the fermenting juice was to be transported some distance, instead of going into clay jars to be stored, it would be poured into wineskins made of tanned goat skins. The skins were filled with the partially fermented wine and the open neck was then tied off. The new skins had enough stretchiness to handle the rest of the fermentation process. If however, old skins were used which had already been stretched out, these old wineskins could not handle the fermentation process. They would burst and the wine would be lost as well as the wineskins!
So in this one-verse parable, Jesus was saying that the gospel of the Kingdom which He was bringing into the world would not fit into the the Pharisees’ paradigm or way of living. In order to receive it, they must change. If they didn’t, the new Kingdom would be lost to them and indeed, they would be lost as well.
This is one of those little parabolic sayings of Jesus that can echo through and rattle around in our soul for days, even weeks, as He imparts deeper and different ways of understanding what He was communicating not only to these hard-headed Pharisees but to me … and perhaps to you.
How new are my wineskins? Yes, they were new when I first received Christ as a small child and He came with His sweet, redeeming presence to live in my heart. Yes, they were new again when I readied myself to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as an adult and was filled to the brim and overflowing with His presence for ministry to others. Yes, they were new even again during my cancer storm when my flesh was worn and weary and wasted, but my heart was more than ready to be filled full with His kind, comforting, healing Presence!
But how new are my wineskins today? How I want God to do something new in my life! I desire Him to breathe new life into the ministry He has given to me and into the lives of those I love and serve — new life into my church family and into those around me who suffer with cancer or other ailments of body or soul.
You see the wine is always new! God is always ready to bubble up within us with a new and fresh measure of His presence, His power, His passion, His purpose. But if my mindset is not prepared, if my attention is fixed elsewhere, if I am not looking for the ways He wants to fill me afresh with His new wine, I’lll miss my moment.
Yolanda Entz is a Holocaust survivor. Having gone through terrible suffering, terrible trauma, the day came when she decided that she wanted to be new wineskins ready for His new wine. She says, “One day, the hatred I had in my heart was changed to love and compassion for the same people who hurt me. As long as I can breathe, I want to be about sharing what God has given me. I’m always looking forward to some new challenge. I don’t know what God has in mind yet for me but I’m up to it. I’m ready for it … whatever it is. I’d like to leave behind the memory of a person who was fulfilled and content and happy because I have found peace with God.”
If Yoland Entz can say that, so can I. How about you? How new are your wineskins today?
Love and blessings,
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.