After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.Luke 5:27-39
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Structure is a necessity of life, but inflexibility will stifle life. My wife has claimed for years that I am too inflexible. She is usually referring to the fact that once I have a plan in mind, I don’t like to change horses mid-stream as the old saying goes. It shows up in simple things like leaving the house with a plan to go to Costco, then the pet store, and finally Albertson’s grocery store. I have my route laid out in my mind and don’t like it when we are half-way to Costco and I am asked to change the plan and go to Trader Joe’s first. “Now you tell me! I’m on my way to Costco, we’ll fit Trader Joe’s in later.” That is my kind of inflexibility. It irritates my wife just as last-minute changes irritate me. But we obviously get around it since we have been married for 54 years.
In our text, Jesus was dealing with a different kind of inflexibility. It was a rigid religious commitment to extra-Biblical rules. The Pharisees excelled at this kind of religion. It went beyond what God required in the law and made living very difficult.
Jesus was socializing with people the Pharisees considered unclean and not to be associated with. Then John’s disciples were puzzled about the religious practices of Jesus and his disciples in regard to fasting. They just didn’t get it. The freedom of Jesus and his disciples offended the religious sensibilities of both the Pharisees and John’s disciples.
Jesus had a couple of responses, but I want to focus on just the wineskins lesson. In the ancient Near East, when there we no glass or plastic bottles, wine was fermented and held in animal skins. When wine ferments, it releases gasses that cause the skin to expand. Then it dries out and becomes rigid. Jesus was telling the Pharisees and John’s disciples that this was their problem. Their spiritual containers had become rigid and hard.
Jesus is introducing new wine and he knew that the old wineskins of Phariseeism could not contain this new wine of the gospel. In fact, his new wine was going to blow up the old wineskin. Our relationship with God is now understood to be based on grace alone through faith alone. This new relationship, based on the coming indwelling Holy Spirit (the new wine), could not be contained in the Pharisaical legalism they knew.
Let’s put ourselves into this story. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is our wineskin flexible enough to live a life led by the Holy Spirit and not by a set of religious rules?” Let us really think about this for a while. Are there people like the tax collectors and prostitutes in Jesus’ story with whom you will not associate? Are you easily offended by people who do not observe religious traditions that are important to you; traditions that may be extra-Biblical.
And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.Luke 5:39
How flexible is your wineskin? Are you satisfied with the old wine? Or, do you want to imbibe of the New Wine? If you do, you better make sure your wineskin is flexible, otherwise, it will probably blow up and spill all your New Wine. A Spirit-led life is exciting and it can be unsettling too. It is a walk of faith and faith usually doesn’t see much further down the road than the next step or two. Go ahead and be led by the Spirit and walk by faith. It’s fun.