Tonight, because I’m feeling feisty, let’s do another difficult Jesus story.
Before we can dive into it though we have to know who the Pharisees were because they are key players in this specific narrative. (I realize the following is a grossly simplified explanation of a very complex group…but this is a blog and I’m going ot loose most of you at 250 words so cut me some slack.)
There were lots of different Jewish groups in the 1st century longing for God to send a savior (or Messiah) that would liberate the Jewish people from Roman domination. The different groups disagreed about exactly God was waiting for.
The Zealots, for example, believed God was waiting for them to start the war. Once the battle began raging with the Romans the Messiah would emerge to save his people.
For the Pharisees it was all about the law. They believed that if every Jew in Israel could go one day without sin the Messiah would come. Mind you, this was no easy task. The Pharisees had identified over 600 rules or rituals listed in the Scripture; and then they added to it an oral tradition (intended to clarify those rules and rituals) that tacked on hundreds of more things to do or not do.
Following these rituals and rules dominated the Pharisees lives because it defined their relationship with God. Being a child of God for them was all about what they did. Following the rules and living by the rituals = loving God. Breaking the rules = rejecting God (and being rejected by God as unclean…or not holy enough).
Now don’t snub your nose at them just yet. I believe this same understanding of relationship with God is alive and well today…maybe even in you. I was infected by it for a good portion of my life. It is often refered to as “religion.” It is the belief that what God wants from us, what our relationship with Him is based on, is our practice of certain rituals and the keeping of certain rules.
Don’t believe me?
Ever made to feel guilty for missing church on Sunday morning by someone that was there?
Ever go, not because you want to, but because you feel like you have to?
Has anyone ever told you, “Suicide is the unforgivable sin.”
Ever take communion half-heartedly only doing it because you happen to be sitting in the room while it was being given out?
For those of you in the Bible belt, ever gotten in a fight about when a quiet-time should be done? Has anyone ever told you your time with Jesus has to happen in the morning?
Ever been made to feel guilty that you: don’t read your Bible enough, don’t serve in enough church ministries, don’t tithe, don’t share your faith in the right way, or don’t pray as often as you should.
Ever have someone try to argue that one translation of the Bible is more “holy” than another?
Ever been a conversation where a group of people were labeled “sinners” and then marginalized for “their sinful ways”?
Yeah…Religion is thriving. Just like the Pharisees, we are great at defining our relationship with God through rituals and rules.
So there is this one passage in which Jesus addressed religion like this directly – Luke 5:33-39.
Leading up the passage Jesus had already begun to upset the religious folk (the Pharisees). First he forgave a man’s sins before healing the man. That really upset them. Jesus broke like a thousand laws by forgiving sins.
Next they catch him hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners.” There were all kinds of rules about who a good religious person could and could not hang out with. No drunks (especially in bars), no prostitutes, no gays, no addicts, no one that will be a bad influence, and homeless people are sketchy…oh wait…that’s our list….I meant to say no tax collectors, no gentiles, no prostitutes…really no “unclean sinners” in general.
So the religious crew comes and asks Him indirectly about his blatent disregard for their rituals and rules. They don’t take on the whole passing-out-forgiveness-as-if-he-was-God thing, or the hanging-with-dirty-people thing. Instead they approach with a tamer subject – prayer and fasting. Jesus and his boys weren’t following those rituals either.
Jesus answers their direct question about fasting first with a simple statement. “The fun has arrived. It’s a party! Why in the world would we be fasting?” (My paraphrase.)
Then he says something incredibly profound; something I have a feeling they had to go home and think about. (We will just look at the end of His statement. Go read the whole thing for yourself – Luke 5:36-39.)
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine, wish for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’
So the old wine is legalistic faith; the belief that your relationship with God is based on what you do.
The old wine skin is religion (the faith of the Pharisees). It is the system of rituals and rules that old wine, legalistic faith, demands.
The new wine is this dynamic, powerful, wild relationship Jesus offers. It is not about what you do. It is about who you are. It is not a legalistic, fearful life of walking on glass. It is about being defined as the redeemed, the children of God, the saved, the hopeful ones, the ambassadors of God’s loves…it is a life defined by grace.
Wine expands over time. So an old wine skin has been stretched. If you take new wine and put it in an old wine skin that has already been stretched the new wine will bust the old skin.
Do you see what Jesus is saying? His new wine, this relationship with Him that is not about what you do but rather about who you are, can’t fit into the world of rules and rituals. It will bust them up. They can’t hold his unexplainable forgiveness. They can’t contain his wild, challenging love. They can’t direct his grace. He is always pushing them, breaking them, and redefining them with his mercy, hope, righteousness, and justice.
Religion won’t hold Christ. He’s way is way to much for it.
So two questions for you to ponder…
First – if religion is the old wine skin…what is the new wine skin?
Second – Jesus makes a sad statement at the end about people that have lived the legalistic faith. (Go back and read vers 39.) Are you satisfied with the old wine?