One time when Jesus was teaching his disciples (Matthew 9:15-17), he told them not to put new wine in old wineskins. Why? Just what did he mean by that?
In his day, wine was kept in containers made out of goat skin–leather. Wine bubbles as it ferments, and when new wine was put into new wineskins–goat leather–the leather was pliable and would stretch with the bubbling expansion. But when the bubbling–and the consequent expansion–stopped, the leather would also stop stretching and would become hard and rigid.
Putting new wine–bubbling, expanding wine–into a wineskin that was hard and rigid meant that you ran the very real risk of losing both the wine and the container…and no one wants that.
Today we have glass bottles for wine. We don’t have to worry about the container breaking–unless we drop it.
But the analogy is still meaningful.
We are in a time of ferment. Things are bubbling all around us. If we try to keep going the way we always have…to try to stuff our new understandings into the old containers, we will lose both.
This is true for us individually and it’s also true for those of us involved in religious organizations. I am not advocating that we discard everything we have known and experienced in our previous religious experiences.
But what I am suggesting is that in this time of ferment–when we are gaining new understandings…when we are dealing with numerous crises that impact our world, our ecosystems, and our governments…when the pandemic has thrown our lives into chaos–this is an opportunity for putting new wine into new wineskins.
It is an opportunity to–in many ways–start anew to work at creating a world that is good for all of creation. It is an opportunity to reconsider our sacred texts and look with new eyes.
It isn’t necessarily going to be easy. We will face questions of how we hold on to what is valuable from the past while also being open to what the future holds…and we will not always agree.
But if we continue trying to stuff what is new into our old containers, we will lose the best of both.