Thursday, August 9, 2012

Livin' It, Old (Testament) Style: Wineskins

The Old Testament encourages and inspires me. Though I am not bound by many of its laws or customs any more, there's a lot of beauty and timelessness in some of these ancient ways that teach me how to live under the new covenant.  Today, let's take a look at...


You can't put new wine into old wineskins.  We've heard it said and assume it must be true, but it's one of those cultural antiquities we struggle to relate to.  Many of us enjoy a fine wine - by the glass, by the bottle (seek help), by the beach...but not so often by the skin.  So it's tough to know what it is to put new wine in an old wineskin, what that even means, and why it wouldn't work.  I'm frugal; I guarantee I'd try it, just to save a wineskin.

While these words are the words of Jesus and thus, aren't really "Old Testament" words, the wineskin was a concept very familiar to people under the old law.  In fact, the wineskin is mentioned ten times in the Old Testament and only three in the new, all three by Jesus in three different Gospels.  Our Old Testament references give us a glimpse of how central to life this portable potable was for the people of Israel.

Four times in the books of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:24, 16:20, 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1), new and freshly-filled wineskins are included in the list of extravagant gifts prepared and given.  At the dedication of the young Samuel.  From the father of the future king to the present king.  By the wife of a harsh man to avert the disaster about to fall on their household.  And to gain the favor of king David.  Both to the Lord and to man, the new wineskin was a beautiful gift.

In other passages, we see lives and circumstances compared to the wineskin.  It was so culturally relevant that everyone would have known instantly what these statements meant:

I am like worn-out wineskins... (Job 13:28)

Although I have become like a shriveled and dried out wineskin... (Psalm 119:83)

Joshua was deceived by the wineskin.  Men from the town he was about to ravage disguised themselves as weary travelers, with cracked and patched wineskins hanging off their hips. The wineskin was evidence enough that Joshua didn't bother asking God if they were honest men.  (Chapter 9)

Everyone knew what an old wineskin looked like and what it meant: it was shriveled up, dried out, about to crack.  Not burst; new wineskins burst. (Job 32:19)  Old wineskins crack.  It had been out in the elements, had been opened and closed and opened and closed and drained and dried and just about worn through.

Then Jesus says something that everyone probably thought they already knew - you don't put new wine in old wineskins.  Because those old wineskins will crack.  *Pause*  That's often where we stop and imagine beautiful wine poured out on the ground, wasted.  Tragedy!  ...But Jesus says not only will the wine run out, but the old skins would be ruined.

You don't put the new wine into the old wineskin for the sake of the wine AND the skin.  For the sake of the new AND the old.

And such is life.  There are times I look at my life and it's all shriveled up, dried out, and about to crack and I want to infuse something new into it.  The tangibles and the intangibles - a new desk, a new chair, a new adventure, a new love, a new ministry, a new passion.  Times when I'm about to take a new journey and I want a little new wine in my life to carry with me (in case it doesn't work out and I need to get drunk?).

Then I kind of look around and realize what a waste that would be.  To put something new into this old life when I know that really, what I'm looking for in new wine is this radical change.  This total transformation.  I want things new because I need them new, because I can't live this dried-out, shriveled-up, ready-to-crack life for one more second.  And I know that trying to put new wine into this old skin - whether that's a new chair or a new adventure - is only going to do two things:

It's gonna make the new wine pour out, a total waste because it doesn't fit in this old life.  As long as I'm living this old wineskin, the new wine is not going to make me happy.  I'm going to shove something in, and it's going to melt underneath me and I'm going to realize what absolute no difference at all that much-anticipated taste of new wine made in the grand scheme of my heart - even if it's perfect, even if it's everything I wanted - because I didn't have the life (the moment) to put it in and hold it.  Then I'm stuck where I was with this reminder that I could have had more and yet, I don't.  It's tainted.

And it's gonna make this old wineskin crack.  Whatever honor and respect I had for this place I was in before I found myself ready to move is going to crack and crumble under the added pressure of the new, where my thirst for the new life and this taste I've tried to give myself of something fuller (not better, remember?) makes me only despise all the stronger all that was and all that remains of what used to be and so my old wineskin becomes a burden because it cannot hold my new wine and yet, I've continued to carry it at my hip and try to have both.

In the process, ruining, wasting, losing both.

Letting Jesus pour a new wine of passion and fire and purpose into a new wineskin of an open heart ready to embrace it protects both that passion and the life we're living today.  It lets us have this place and not crack it, not come to hate it simply because we've grown beyond us and can't hold us any more - it lets us honor this life, this moment we've had in this place - while also inviting us to taste something new and move beyond here.  A new journey.  With a new wine.  In a new wineskin.  An extravagant gift we offer to our God.

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