Following Jesus

New Wine in Old Wineskins

July 7, 2020 by

During our single daily exercise at the height of the coronavirus crisis, my wife and I were not worried about the fox, the fallow deer, nor the grass on the country lane. However, the moment a person came into view, we worried which side of the footpath we could use, staggering into brambles and stung by nettles, just to avoid a touch. Today we are dangerous to each other. In pre-COVID times, we must admit, our collective pleasures, passions, and drives for the elusive, eternally expanding market were destroying this planet. Suddenly a halt was issued – by a microscopic part of creation that is not even truly alive, a virus. In this terrible moment when all seems lost, aren’t we also offered a chance to actually do the change so often talked about, but had not acted on?

Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:37) So what does Jesus mean? From what I see, hear, and feel, people are using this global crisis as a window of opportunity to speak candidly about society, exposing faults and rottenness right down to the foundation stones. The discussion often ends with a personal vision of how to go forward in a gentler, more human way. That is the Spirit; that is new wine! I hear sorrow for injustice. That is new wine! Guard the new wine. Find others who have it. In the gospel, the new wine comes toward the end of the feast in abundance. (John 2:9) It is the best, and we will wonder why the best was saved for last. And Jesus clearly says, do not mix it with the old! Something new is going to start.

art Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Painting: Nicodemus and Jesus on a Rooftop by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1899.

This moment is unprecedented in human history. And while changing or improving the existing structures may be worthwhile, please consider how the first followers of Jesus responded to him and the new wine he brought. Jesus – the life changer, the game changer, over-turner of tables, lover and creator of the natural world, breaker of chains, advocate for children and mothers. This is not religion, this is life. Real, true life in abundance, packed down and running over. The new wine in abundance!

But what do the new wineskins for the new wine look like? The new wineskins mean a new way of life in Christ, the legitimate response to the new wine. The people formed the new wineskins, they called it “The Way.” The believers were of one heart and soul and no one called anything his own. Yes, good deeds abounded, but that is not the point. First, and predominantly, is the overflow of love to Christ who loved us first and gave the new wine.

This love burned among his followers then – and today – till even private property toppled. The believers had all things in common, and no one lacked anything! This is the practical result of love. (A simple example is the first love of a man and a woman, when the couple wants to share everything.) The fact that it “didn’t last” for so many of his followers – that is not the fault of the Spirit, it is the human condition of self-centeredness that so often causes us to lose the vision and abandon our calling. The ensuing generations got weary and fell back into regular society, trying endlessly to improve it. So the new wine was poured into old skins, and so much was lost.

Jesus said it: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Full community in Christ has never left the earth – joyful, life changing, sacrificial unto death, table turning, expecting the only real kingdom, the kingdom of God, our Father in heaven. 

If you are inspired to look for such a gathering, you will have to search and soul search, but you will find it. It is usually small, made up of very ordinary, often uncertain, average people. And yet it is a tiny forerunner, a seed, if you will – an embassy empowered from beyond earthly life, a pointer to the real event. The event when all world powers, human activity, and your and my life will be turned upside down in a totally new way, and we will resurface and wonder why we ever called what we have today life.

Then it will all be new wine, in the kingdom.

Danny Meier and his wife, Tessa, live at Darvell, a Bruderhof in East Sussex, United Kingdom. Tessa has taught middle school for the past thirty years, while Danny contributes manual labor to one of our newer ventures, Lordship Chairs.


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