Consider these words of Jesus from Mark 2:21-23:
“No one would patch an old piece of clothing with a patch of new cloth; but if anyone did, the new patch would pull away, making the tear worse. And no one would pour new wine old wineskins; but if anyone did, the wine would burst the wineskins, and both the wine and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, new wine goes into new wineskins.”
To tell you the truth, I have never really understood where Jesus is going here. He says lots of confusing and cryptic things, but this is on the top of my list of “what?!” moments.
So I did some thinking and digging.
It is worthwhile to note that Jesus makes this statement in response to some people who asked him: “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (v. 18).
It would seem to me that Jesus is contrasting the religious traditions of the day with his own teaching and the kind of community he was beginning to create. He was doing something different, symbolized by this new or unshrunk (literally, pure or unspoiled) piece of cloth that would act as a patch. But the problem is that the new patch and the old garment are incompatible. The cloth in the new patch is still dynamic. It is in the process of changing, and trying to match that with the new old garment won’t work. Likewise, the new wine was still in the process of fermenting, and the gases released would break and old and brittle wineskin, but a new and flexible skin would be fine to handle a little expansion due to fermentation.
In this context, I believe Jesus is saying: “We don’t fast because at this point I am breaking and reinventing the rules. Not that we will never fast (v. 20), but I mean to say that the old structures and all the details about them do not necessarily serve the new things that God is doing. If Judaism as it currently stands is not flexible enough to accept this new thing, well then we just need some new wineskins or a new garment.”
While God was doing something unique and very new in the person of Jesus — something never to be replicated or trumped — he is always doing something new in our world on some scale, and the question Jesus asks us here is whether the wineskins and the garments (i.e. the beliefs, traditions, structures, and institutions we have) are flexible enough to incorporate the new thing. And if we still insist on trying to stuff the new God-movements into our old ways of doing things, our old systems will explode and we won’t be treated to all that has God has to offer either.
So what new things is the Spirit doing in your life and faith community and where does there need to be change in order for Him to accomplish this new work to the fullest?