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Thursday, June 9, 2022
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 9:9–17
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding attendants cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are ruined, but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (NRSV)
Although we might be tempted to read our scripture passage today as an esoteric reflection on proper wine storage, it’s safe to assume that wasn’t what was really on Jesus’ mind—particularly given the verses that proceed it. This somewhat confusing reflection on wineskins comes after a series of confrontations Jesus has with the religious authorities of his day: disputes about who he eats with, his relationship with sinners, and the nature of his disciples’ fasting. In each case, Jesus is challenging the conventional wisdom of how the Law has been lived out—arguing that a strict adherence to the Law ultimately does harm to our ability to live out the “greatest commandment” of loving God and neighbor.
Jesus’ words, then, aren’t really about wine at all. Instead, he is offering a thought-provoking metaphor on how the “old wineskins” in our lives (traditions, habits, practices) are sometimes unable to hold the “new wine” in it (major events, big changes, the movement of God’s spirit). Jesus was challenging the Pharisees to recognize that such a change was going on in their midst—Jesus had come in this world to emphasize God’s mercy and grace extended to all people, rather than maintain boundaries between “clean” and “unclean” behavior.
The same concept can certainly be extended to us today: what are the old wineskins that we keep filling with new wine, rather than creating something new? What traditions, habits, and practices do we have that are getting in the way of the movement of God’s spirit—or preventing us from truly loving God and our neighbor?
O God, we trust you are always doing a new thing in our midst. As it continues to spring forth, may we have the eyes to perceive the way you would lead us, and the courage to follow that path. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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