New Wineskins – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 9:14-17

When I was younger, the analogy Jesus uses about wine and wineskins was lost on me.  This ‘loss in translation’ could have been because I was not at the age where I could drink and had no concept of the intoxicating effects of wine.  Or perhaps because I grew up Baptist and any drinking of alcohol was viewed with suspicion.  I had an idea of what was meant by feasting with the bridegroom and understood the concept of un-shrunk fabric, but what was this concept about new and old wineskins?

In Jesus day, wine didn’t come in bottles with a cork, but were stored in skins.  When the wine was first poured into the skins it was still fermenting therefore the skins would need to be new and pliable so that the gasses produced in the fermentation process could expand the skins without breaking them.  As time went on, the skins would age and become stiff and less pliable.  They could still be used, but better that older wine or other liquids be stored in them or else they would burst under the pressure of fermentation and both wine and skin would be lost.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel we read that John the Baptist appears in the wilderness preachingrepentance in the anticipation of the arrival of the long hoped for Messiah.  When Jesus is baptized, we see a shift in focus from John and his teaching to Jesus.  It is in this shift that we find the disciples of John asking questions of Jesus.  Unlike the Temple leaders who would question Jesus in a tone of contempt, John’s disciples were genuinely interested in the unorthodox approach Jesus was taking.  Jesus’ teachings were refreshing, exciting, interesting and were renewing people’s relationship and understanding of God.  Jesus’ good news is that this God whom he called Abba, or ‘Papa,’ is the God of creation, constantly renewing and expanding our old and finite ways of thinking in order to make room for his love for us and all people, a love that is fresh and intoxicating.  In order to contain this new wine, we have to be like new wineskins, which have the ability to expand and broaden.

Perhaps we can look to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of this willingness to grow.  When Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she has been favored to be the God-bearer she immediately is ‘troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.”  But Mary knew her scripture and was in touch with the countless ways in which God had been working in the world, especially in the most unlikely ways.  It was her courage to say yes and to be like a new wineskin that would make it possible for all of us to drink this new wine of God in the person of Jesus; a wine that continues to ferment, strengthen, and refresh all who partake.

If we are to be like Mary, the bearer of God to the world, we too need to be like new wineskins, ever willing to expand and broaden, accepting a new understanding of what God is doing in our lives and as a result in the world.  Initially this could be uncomfortable and we may experience growing pains, but to be stiff and unbending like an old wineskin is risk breaking and wasting this love of Jesus which God wishes to lavish on us all.



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  1. Roderic Brawn on September 30, 2022 at 09:22

    This sermon explained this scripture to me. I see it’s beauty now!

  2. William Winston on June 17, 2019 at 18:02

    Br. Jim! Excellent commentary, as usual! Even in ones dotage, one has to be flexible, open to new ideas and possibilities…or burst.
    And congratulations on the second anniversary of your life vows.

  3. Janie McNew on June 17, 2019 at 09:29

    Wonderful message

  4. Jeanne DeFazio on June 17, 2019 at 09:05

    Thanks for this beautiful message. I love that you said God’s love is intoxicating. There are moments that I grasp this in my life. I am working on expanding my awarenesses f God’s love. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. SusanMarie on June 17, 2019 at 08:58

    Beautiful and inspiring! It is important to have a supple heart/mind/soul to allow growth. Interestingly, it was in my 20s and 30s when I was stiff and less pliable. I thought I knew the truth/Truth about everything, especially what I thought about God and God’s desires for the “right” way to live and behave. I became wiser — more pliable — in my 40s and 50s as I learned that God’s ways are bigger than my ways and God’s thoughts bigger than my thoughts. During this period of growth I read a quote from Richard Rohr: “When you think you are God, no one around you is safe.” The truth of that statement changed everything for me and I think of it every time my mind wants to proclaim another’s ways and choices and ideas as wrong. If Mary had used her head knowledge instead of her soul knowledge when she was visited by the angel Gabriel, she would never have agreed to bear the son of God. Her heart/mind/soul were soft and pliable so that she could receive and accept God’s glorious and scandalous request.

  6. Margo Fletcher on June 17, 2019 at 08:23

    Dear Br. Jim, I love the idea that one can go on being created into a new wine skin. Thank you. Margo

    • Anne Kennedy on June 17, 2019 at 15:59

      My new wineskin for the church would be to change the TRINITY into a QUARTET. Mary, the
      Mother should be included. Where is the Feminine Strength in this old fashioned rhetoric.

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