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"Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,and both the wine and the skins are ruined.Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." Mark:2:22Jesus speaks this parable as part of his response to those who ask him why he and his disciples do not fast the way that John and his disciples did. Indeed, even the Pharisees and their disciples fasted regularly. Why not Jesus and his followers. After telling them that the guests at a wedding don't fast during the celebration, he then speaks of inadvisability of patching old clothes with new cloth or putting new wine in old wineskins.
Along with most of you, I have heard this saying every year--it is in all three synoptic gospels--of my life. The meaning at the time was pretty clear. Jesus had come to proclaim the Good News that the Reign of the Divine One was not what everyone expected. It was not a change in the external circumstances of Israel in which the kingship would be re-established with power and glory. It was a change in the interior life of those who believed. As a result, external practices were not the essential elements of belief. It was a conversion of heart and a willingness to do the will of the Divine One.
If one relied solely on the external practices of Judaism or on the belief system and tradition that created and sustained those practices, it was almost impossible for one to enter the Reign of the Divine One. The metaphor of the wineskins made immediate sense to those who heard Jesus. Goatskins were used to store wine but especially used to hold the grape juice as it fermented into wine. A wineskin was made from the skin of a goat because it would expand as the juice fermented with the resulting gases expanding the skin. Once fermented the wine would be kept in the wineskin until it was ready for consumption and would then serve as a serving vessel. Once used the skin would not retain its original shape and flexibility. If it were used again for fermenting wine, it would not be able to expand as the wine fermented and would burst. The wine would be lost. Thus the new wine of the Good News could not be carried in the old wineskin of law based spirituality. A new spirituality was needed.
But what about me today? Is this being said not just to the Jews of first century Palestine but to me in twenty first century America? If so, what does it mean?
My spirituality is the mental and emotional framework in which my spirit joined to the spirit of the Divine One is present in the world. It includes how I think about the ultimate meaning of life, how I pray, how I feel about my life and its direction, and the ways in which I practice my faith. My spirituality has changed throughout my life because I have changed and the world in which I live has changed. My spirituality as a child was far different from my spirituality as a young adult, as a spouse, as a parent, as a grandparent, as a professional, and as a retired person. If that spirituality had not changed, if I had tried to fit my changing and developing understanding of my self and the world within a child's understanding of the Divine One, it would have burst the wineskin and I would have abandoned my faith as irrelevant to me.
At each stage of my life, I am tempted to think that I have got it this time. My spirituality is in sync with who I am and with my relationship with the Divine One. But that is never true. As long as I am alive, I am changing and my spirituality needs to change as well. Old understandings and practices need to fall away to be replaced by new, better adapted ones. This is hard, often very hard. But if I do not go through this creating a new wineskin, things can fall apart.