A Reflection on the Gospel according to St Luke 5:33-39
How long have you waited yearning for harvest?
In you potential and blessing shared ground
Light filled, you burst forth with sweet promise
New skins for new wine must be found.
New taste new promise tart leads to sweet
Fresh ways perceived; new senses awakened
One sip and earth with heaven meet
New life discovered old ways now forsaken.
New wine, earth with heaven join
New wine in new skins, with great promise coined.
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that change is upon them, the old has ended and the new begun. This change is not evolutionary, like sewing a patch onto an older piece of cloth. It is revolutionary, literally from the Latin revolvere, to revolve or turn back again. This turning back requires a transformation in our understanding of how our relationship with a loving God is lived out. This is a change, that for the scribes and Pharisees steeped in the rules and precepts of the Law, requires a completely new way of thinking, a completely new way of living. The change is new wine that demands a new skin.
This need to change is central to Jesus’ teaching from the beginning. This is what really bothers the Jewish leaders, what bothers the world stuck in old thinking. In the Gospel of Mark, the first words we hear from our Lord are a challenge to change,
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 NABRE)
Jesus declares that the Old Covenant, the “old wine” which Jesus refers to in the Gospel today (Luke 5:39), is fulfilled. The Greek word for “fulfilled” in Mark 1:15, is plērŏō (πληρόω) which means that it is “crammed full”. The Law has completely achieved its purpose. It is crammed full. It has clearly exposed our sin and our inability to be reconciled with God. We need a savior! If the scribes and Pharisees were not blinded by pride and arrogance, they would have understood this. However, we resist change at all costs. Even now, many cling to the idea that the path to heaven lies in our own ability to be a “good person”. We don’t need God. They are fooling themselves. God’s measure of goodness is the law, and our own sin just will not allow us to climb to heaven on our own. Instead. we must be “lifted” up. Salvation must come from outside. This requires a revolutionary way of thinking.
Jesus calls for a change of heart calling, “repent and believe in the gospel”. The Greek word for repent used in the Mark 1:15 is, metanoia (μετάνοια). Metanoia is a complete change of mind which results in a change of lifestyle. To drink the new wine offered at Jesus’ banquet, to wear the new garment for his wedding feast, one must have a new heart, go through metanoia, a change of mind. In the Gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees that there is a new wedding. He says,
“Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5: 34-35 NABRE)
This wedding is the “New Covenant,” a completely new relationship between God and man, a new fabric, a new wine. The Gospel, the good news of Salvation through God’s gift of Himself, frees mankind from the law and slavery to sin. He frees us from the idea that we must attain heaven through our work alone. The bridegroom comes as a Savior. To receive the bridegroom, we must turn back to God and begin again in a new way, as one flesh. The old wine, the Old Covenant, was good, but it is not the best wine and will never be good enough.
Remember the water changed substantially at the wedding in Cana. Jesus did not make old wine better. He gave us new wine, the best wine. He is the wine, the Eucharistic blood of the New Covenant. This new wine is Grace, complete gift, divinity enters into us, and it is the means of our salvation. St Paul writes to the Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Our eternal life comes from this new wine. It is time to put away the old and change, metanoia. Change scares many. It requires that we trust and take a step away from the familiar into the unknown. It requires that we trust the Lord for only He can lift us to heaven.
So, what does it mean to drink the new wine? Scripture provides us some insight. Here are just two that should allow for a change of heart, a metanoia, today:
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with first fruits of all your produce; Then will your barns be filled with plenty, with new wine your vats will overflow. (Proverbs 3:9–10 NABRE)
We must place the Lord first in our lives. More than just giving money. It means placing every action, every task undertaken, all you “produce” before the Lord. Today approach your work as for the Lord. The type of work is unimportant. Don’t do every task you undertake for your boss or for some known or unknown customer. Do it to the level of excellence that you would for the Lord. You don’t work for some organization or company, even if it is your own, you work for God. Then, “with new wine your vats will overflow”.
We read in Isaiah,
Thus says the LORD: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. (Isaiah 65:8 NRSV)
Wine is not produced from a single grape, but from a cluster. We are called to work within a community of those who are filled with new wine. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes,
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
Our Church, our Parish, the Mystical Body of Christ is the source of our blessing, it is the source of our new wine. It is never about just me and Jesus, it is about us and Jesus. To receive the blessing, come together as a Parish community, get involved, serve the community as a Catechist, as a helper in the Food Pantry, as an Extraordinary Minister. Rouse one another to good work and let your love and good work be your bond. The Church is the new wine skin, fill it with new wine.
Finally, remember that the new wine is grace, total gift. The Lord fills you to become the new wine in new wine skins. Like new wine you are to possess a fresh approach to faith filled with light and sweetness. Remember you work for God! Like new wine you are just a small grape in a cluster from which blessing, the often-intoxicating effect of working within a Church filled with the Holy Spirit, emanates. Do not “forsake the assembly” criticizing its warts but become a voice of encouragement and love.
Our salvation comes from the Lord, none of us merit Salvation on our own, this is the old wine. Instead, drink fully of the new wine, the new divine wine of love and mercy, the wine of Salvation, God’s gift of eternal life. Drink the new wine and rejoice!