It seems that Jesus was forever teaching and preaching using stories from everyday life to make his point. He would say, “consider the birds of the air, how they neither toil nor reap…” or “there was a merchant in search of fine pearls…” or “there was a father with two sons…” Sometimes he uses similes, “the kingdom of heaven is like” …like many things. Or he would use word pictures, as in today’s Gospel reading about mending clothes and making and preserving wine.
In Jesus’ own day the juice from newly crushed grapes was not bottled but rather encased in a satchel sewn from sheep, goat, or ox skins of all sizes, sometimes holding as much as 60 gallons. As the wine fermented, the fresh skin would stretch, but without bursting. You cannot recycle this stretched leather satchel. A new batch of fermenting wine would surely burst old leather… and so, Jesus’ point: new wine requires a fresh, stretchable encasing.
One of the wonderful things about stories – including Jesus’ stories – is that they are timeless. I’ll suggest here a timely way for us to interpret Jesus’ metaphor about the new wine given life together: the life that we live together be it as monks in a monastery, or as married spouses, as partners, as members of families or congregations, or guilds or other associations.
Jesus is keen on things new and on making all things new. He tells stories about our becoming like children, even about our being born again. He has come to bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and comfort to those who mourn. He has come to set us free. He has come to give us a new heart. He’s come to seek us out and find us when we are lost. He consistently speaks about good news – not the bad olds but the good news.
What’s most significant in what Jesus promises us is that we can change. We can change, and we need to change to become fully and wholly the person God has created us to be. In the vocabulary of the church, a word for this is “conversion.” The Greek word in the New Testament which we translate as “conversion” is strepho, which literally means both a physical and an inner turning, a change in both perspective and deportment. In our community’s Rule of Life, conversion is a word that appears many, many times. Our Rule speaks of the invitation to lifelong conversion: both a change in perspective and a change in our practice of life.
We need to be agents of other people’s conversion. I’m not saying that we presume or require that other people change, and that they change on our own terms. Rather, I’m saying here our role is to allow, to enable other people to change. We are not called to incarcerate people to their pasts, which Jesus calls “binding people on earth,” but rather to be agents of their liberation. Some people do not change – especially to change for the better – because those who surround them could imagine or allow them being any different. In my own brokenness I am so aware of how easy it is to look on someone being worse because I could not countenance them being better.
One of my favorite memories from childhood at this time of year was going off to summer camp for a week or two. I loved it. I loved the swimming, the horses, the crafts, all games and adventures, and all the friendships. What for me was most significant in going off to camp – as I look back on it – was my chance to be a different person. I could try on a new identity with my fellow campers and staff members who didn’t know me so well. Sometimes I was a pretender; but most of the time I simply felt free to allow myself to really stretch into my soul, to really be who I was really becoming. Camp allowed that. And I want to say that life should allow that. It’s a role we’ve all been given: to welcome that new thing which Christ is inviting in one another, especially in those who are closest to us. It’s to be midwives to one another, to be cheerleaders, to be living reminders (not deadly reminders but living reminders) to one another of what is good, and what is new, and what is showing forth with such promise in one another: to pray that our own hearts be like new wineskins to stretch with the love of Christ for one another.
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