Jesus’ New Wine
A lot of old wine has now been consumed celebrating the new year. Such celebrations, however, cannot escape the guilty conscience of the old year; some things never change, like the proverbial death and taxes.
As Jesus faced his imminent death, he shared a cup of wine with his disciples. He revealed that this wine was actually “my blood of the covenant” that is poured out for many for the purpose of forgiveness of sins (Mt. 26:28). Like the blood of the covenant in Ex. 24:8–that Moses sprinkled on Israel to ratify the covenant (and its commands) they had just promised to obey–Jesus’ new wine/blood will ratify his new covenant (and its new commands), and include forgiveness of sins for many. Then on one special day in the future (the risen) Jesus would drink the wine new with his (risen) disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Mt. 26:29).
Among the many that Jesus called to follow him, and become part of his new kingdom of disciples, was a tax collector named Matthew. When Matthew abandoned his profitable, and despised, tax profession, he hosted Jesus and his disciples in a celebration that included other tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 9:9-10). After the Pharisees complained that this “rabbi” was drinking with the wrong crowd, Jesus told them they needed to learn what Hosea meant (in Hos. 6:6) when he wrote (about God), saying, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:11-13).
Hosea and other prophets of the kingdom of Israel complained that the people loved to assemble for sacrifices and offerings that would forgive their sin and pledge their future loyalty. Yet their promised love for God and love for others in need disappeared like the morning dew. Likewise, Jesus portrays his new wine (of love towards many, including despised outcasts) and new wineskins (his new kingdom of disciples) as a contrast with the old wine of sacrifices and fasting by the Pharisees (Mt. 9:14-17). And Jesus again quotes Hos. 6:6–God desires mercy (love), and not sacrifice–after Pharisees complain that his disciples have picked wheat on the sabbath because they are hungry (Mt. 12:1-8). Jesus tells them something greater than the temple, and the sabbath, is now here; showing mercy and love to the needy is greater than sacrifices and fasts in the temple or synagogue.
As in Israel, it is easy for many churches to think they can satisfy God by mere assemblies, where “priestly” hierarchies presumptuously pronounce them forgiven, and praise them for their joining in the solemn rite of “communion.” It is indeed too easy for churches to drink the communion cup and remember Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of sins and at the same time forget his new wine that is full of mercy and love, especially love for the needy and outcasts. Numerous church members suppose their sacrifices of tithes or offerings to build “temples” and pay “priests” will satisfy God; surely their special times of attending these assemblies and accepting these pronouncements and offering their gifts are acceptable sacrifices.
Jesus’ new wine, however, is not compatible with old wine in old wineskins; too many churches look and act like Israel’s former synagogues or temple. Jesus’ mercy and love looked instead like small groups of disciples meeting in homes, sharing food generously and teaching one another faithfully, welcoming and helping the poorest and most needy among them and around them. Yet even in the earliest Jerusalem house churches there were problems with neglecting certain widows; and in Corinthian churches some were eating most of the food and getting drunk before poor members arrived. Churches are not necessarily the new wineskins of Jesus’ new kingdom of disciples.
As the years go by, there are still many poor and needy who are neglected outcasts in various churches. Even some churches that offer them food through food pantries (some of which was thrown out by grocery stores and collected by church volunteers) do so with patronizing: follow our rules (“only one bag a month”), accept our Savior (“his sacrifice will forgive your sins”), and attend our church (“our assemblies are worthy of your support”). If old wineskins “spill” Jesus’ new wine, then new wineskins are needed, wineskins that can preserve and provide the new wine.