Monday, November 07, 2005

New Wineskins

People don’t usually keep wine in wineskins anymore, unless it becomes a temporary fad, as it did some time during the 70s. Even then it was a simple convenience (along with its cool-appeal); it was easier to haul around than a bottle when going to a concert or some other event at which one felt required to become inebriated. But in Jesus’ time, to talk about wineskins was not to talk about a fad, but an element of everyday life. Jesus’ parables generally touched on things that were the stuff of common people’s lives.

Yet his teaching is anything but common. When He spoke of the necessity of new wineskins to receive new wine, He wasn’t merely offering helpful hints for the Jewish homemaker. He was speaking of a multi-layered mystery.

First of all, the new wine is his teaching, which was new, especially compared to the tired moralizing and legalistic nit-picking of the scribes and Pharisees. Yet his words were not an abolition of what God had formerly revealed, but rather their fulfillment. To receive this teaching one needed a “new” mind, a fresh openness to the word of God so as to hear the voice of the “God of our Fathers” from the mouth of Jesus. To close one’s mind to his teaching was to retain the brittle and useless wineskin of narrow-minded and sterile traditionalism.

The new wine was also the content of the New Covenant. Even though He fulfilled the Old Covenant, Jesus took things in a new direction with the sacrifice of the Cross and his resurrection. Jesus made it clear that the new wine would be poured out as Precious Blood: “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The new wineskin needed to receive this Wine is a soul immersed in the mysteries of Christ through baptism into his Church. We are so blessed to drink of the New Wine of the Kingdom of God even now during our Eucharistic Liturgies.

Finally, the new wine of Jesus’ teaching and of the New Covenant in his Blood is given to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Spirit cleanses us within, giving us “a new heart and a new spirit,” able to receive Christ in the fullness of his mysteries, open to abide in Him and He in us—the great gift of the New Covenant that is meant to last for all eternity. “ shall be made clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you… And I will put My Spirit within you…” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Let us pray, then, for a mind open to “drink in” the words of Christ, who is, as we pray in the Divine Liturgy, “the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and the Father’s whole plan of salvation.” May our minds be supple enough to hold his teachings and to let his wisdom guide us in all we do. Let us pray also for that new heart and new spirit, cleansed and purified and able to receive the chalice of the New Wine of his Precious Blood, and then to walk in the way of his righteousness all the days of our lives.

New wine, new wineskins. The Lord will provide them both if we earnestly come to Him in repentance, faith, and love.