Monday, January 17, 2011

1/17/11 - Of Wine and Wineskins

Mark 2:18-22
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to Jesus and objected,
“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them,
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
There are two teachings going on here. In the first, Christ is saying that there is no need for fasting while HE is there. The purpose of fasting is ultimately self-denial, so that people can learn to turn away from the desires and wants of the world and turn toward God, who is the source of all good.  The disciples didn't need to fast, because they were experiencing God in the flesh minute by minute, in a way that no fasting could produce.  The time for fasting will come after he -- "the bridegroom" -- is physically gone.
Jesus isn't saying that people shouldn't fast.  In fact he's saying that we should.  He's saying that they shouldn't leave the greater (his presence) for the lesser (fasting, which is meant to ultimately bring about ... HIS PRESENCE).  This is very similar to how he treated Mary and Martha.  Martha worked and prepared, and Mary sat at His feet.  Mary chose the better part.

The second teaching is a parable describing the old and new covenants. The bottom line is that Christ is mediator of the new covenant.  He is the unshrunken cloth in the garment metaphor, and the "new wine" in the wineskin metaphor.  The new wine requires a new wineskin -- one that has become new by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.  If you patch unshrunken cloth on to an old garment, it will tear away.  If you try to contain it in the old wineskin (ie, the old covenant), the wineskin will burst.  The new needs to be paired with the new.

Today we don't deal with wineskins, so we really don't know what Christ is talking about. The apostles did though.  Here's some background from the web that helps explain things.

Winemaking and Wineskins
Wine was made by treading barefoot on the grapes in a wine press, a square or circular pit hewn out of the rock, or dug out and lined with rocks and sealed with plaster. The juice then flowed through a channel into a lower vessel, a winevat which functioned as a collecting and fermenting container for the grape juice or must.

In the warm climate of Palestine, grape juice began to ferment very quickly and there was no easy way to prevent fermentation. After the first state of fermentation had taken place in the winevat, the wine was separated from the lees (that is, sediment of dead yeast, tartar crystals, small fragments of grape skins, etc.) and strained through a sieve or piece of cloth. After four to six days it was poured into lined clay jars or animal skins for storage and further fermentation.

Fermentation in the wineskin might continue for another two to four months until the process slows down and stops. By that time the skin has been stretched to its limit. The alcohol is probably about 12%, and the collagen protein that gives the leather its stretching ability has been stretched out, and probably denatured by the alcohol, destroying its natural resiliency. The skin's ability to contract and stretch again has been lost.

If you pour new wine into the old skin, the gas pressure from the fermentation is eventually so great that the inflexible old skin ruptures, and the new wine gushes out onto the ground and is wasted.