Thursday, November 13, 2008

Patches and Wineskins

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new patch pulls away from the old cloth, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost as well as the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22 CSB)

A common view of this text is that Jesus was slamming the tradition of fasting. Fasting was, in fact, the context for these statements, but Jesus was not rejecting the practice of fasting. He even said that the time for fasting would come after His departure, but that since He was present, there was not a cause for fasting. What Jesus was doing was to point to the need for appropriateness in terms of tradition. We don’t observe tradition for tradition’s sake, but we observe it when it is appropriate to do so. We cannot be slaves to tradition, in other words.

We see this in the two metaphors that Jesus used. If you sew a new piece of unshrunk cloth onto an old garment, the patch will create a greater tear when it shrinks. If you put new wine into old wineskins, you will end up losing both. You have to put new wine into new wineskins.

This goes to a discussion of the importance and relevance of form in relation to content. Which is more important: the form, or the content? The answer is: both. One is dependent on the other. But if you become a slave to form, you can never have anything new; you cannot grow. If you become a slave to content, again, you will never have anything new that is also lasting. Both are required for real growth. And an important point to remember is that while the forms may need to change at times, the content does not. It is still wine that you put into the wineskins. The content is what we are looking for, but the form for holding the content, while still of the same basic material, needs to be renewed from time to time.

Lord, May the traditions we observe always serve to glorify You and never get in the way of what You want to accomplish. Amen.

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