By Brian Onken
Some of the religious people in Jesus’ day didn’t take to him very well; they were troubled by what he said and did. Not that they weren’t captivated by his miracles and the way he cared for people; they often appreciated his care and stood amazed at the power with which his ministered. But they didn’t like the way he upset the way they thought life should go. They didn’t like that he didn’t see things the way they did.
For example, the pietists of the day (commonly referred to in the Gospels as the “Pharisees”) wanted to live holy. They abstained from contamination in thought and practice through contact with those who didn’t want to live holy, and sought to order their living by their understanding of the Scriptures handed down through Moses and the prophets. Their problem with Jesus? He didn’t seem to come to the same conclusions as they did about what holy living looked like. He didn’t seem to be concerned with becoming contaminated by relating to those who were not yet living holy lives, and he appeared to read the Scriptures through a different lens than they did. Jesus didn’t fit into their mold (In fact, if truth be told, Jesus doesn’t fit into anyone’s mold!).
One time, they confronted him about the practice of fasting. Mark records the exchange in the second chapter of his Gospel. Noting that the Hebrew Scriptures did call for fasting from time to time, the Pharisees thought that “more is better!” So, they fasted on a weekly basis, thinking that such a practice must have some value in their pursuit of holy living. But, apparently Jesus didn’t think so; neither he nor his disciples adopted the practice of weekly fasts. And that troubled the Pharisees. So they asked about it.
Jesus offers an answer by way of an illustration; he tells a couple of parables. Both simple; both with a simple point to be made.
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22)
Patches? What is Jesus referring to? Well, before the days of “pre-shrunk” or “no shrink” fabrics, garments would shrink in the washing and drying process. So, if you had a tear in an old garment, you would not use new cloth to mend it; if you did, the next washing would result in an ineffective patch and a more badly damaged garment.
Wineskins? Have you ever even seen a wineskin? In Jesus’ day, unfermented juice was placed in a sealed skin of an animal. The skin would stretch as the juice fermented, but the new skin would flex enough to not split as the gases of the fermentation caused the wineskin to expand. But no one who knew the process would have used an old wineskin for the fermentation of fresh wine; if you did, the skin would be ruined and all the wine would be lost.
Jesus’ point is simply and powerfully made. The trouble the Pharisees were having is that they were trying to fit Jesus’ way of viewing life and doing life into their old way of seeing. It didn’t fit. And right there, understanding that, there comes a subtle warning.
What are you willing to lose?
The parables Jesus told here drive home that idea. If the Pharisees try to make Jesus “fit” with their way of seeing and doing life, they will not only miss what Jesus is offering them, but they will suffer loss. Jesus’ fresh way of doing life is so counter-intuitive to their way of thinking, that trying to force him to fit won’t hurt him; but it will result in ruining their way of thinking, their way of doing life.
Seeing as I don’t personally identify myself as a card-carrying Pharisee, it would be relatively easy to dismiss the subtle warning Jesus offers here. But, a little honest reflection drives me to the realization that such a step would be unwise. I may not think like the Pharisees of old, but I do have ways of thinking about how life should go, what it means to maintain my holy status, and what makes life “work.” And seeing as these views our mine, derived from my reading of life and my assessment of what is to be valued, these views just might not be all that much like those of Jesus.
So, he will come and bring his understanding of life. He will speakthrough his Word and through my journey in life with himabout how he sees things, what he values, how he intends to approach life, what he desires for his followers to do. And some of what he says (maybe even much or most of what he says) will be at odds with the way I think life ought to be pursued. And then I will be faced with a question: What am I willing to lose?
If I try and force Jesus into my way of liferather than embracing his way of lifeI could well suffer a tear in my soul, a loss in my life, a ruining of my plans. It just won’t work.
So, maybe it really would make sense to embrace, without reservation or correction or adjustment, Jesus’ way of life. And in doing that, nothing of real value will be lost . . . and life will be gained.
Brian is on a life long adventure into an ever-expanding experience of joy in being a follower of Jesus. Reflections on this adventure can be found at his blog, Summathetes.