On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.
Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are detroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."
Several times Matthew tells how Jesus himself remained with the Old Testament tradition, how his concern was with the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6), that he was not sent to foreigners, even to those who happened to live in Palestine. Yet in the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), he repeats Jesus' new vision that perfects and replaces the old law, "You have heard the commandment.. but now I say to you..," (Mt 5:27, 32, 39, etc.). The change from Judaism to the spread of the Church is found in the conclusion of Matthew, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28:19).
The new is introduced with full authority over heaven and earth. Even though ministering usually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Jesus had indicated that his work extended beyond Israel to something new. There was a marked difference between the disciples of Jesus and those of the Baptist. Unshrunken cloth ?" originally, animal skins that have not been tanned and processed ?" must not be sewn onto old leather cloaks, or the new will shrink and the rip will only get worse. Also, when skins are used to contain fermenting wine, new skins will stretch while old, hardened skins will burst open and the wine will be lost. These examples from a thoroughly Jewish background suggest that Jesus' preaching and healing are in some dramatic discontinuity with the past. What began on the outer edges now moves to the centre. He brings a new kind of joy, a new cloak rather than an old one with patches, new wineskins to hold the new wine of his life-giving Spirit.
Change evokes many contrasting reactions. Most of all we should remain at peace, willing to adapt to new circumstances. The way, divine providence is a way of continuity towards an exalted goal, but it passes through human existence in all of its variations. We must seek and pray to be worthy disciples of Jesus, letting him pour his new wine into new wineskins, and be as realistic as the Bible in accepting change.
Jesus calls himself the bridegroom and his disciples are referred to as the bride. The prophets often spoke of God as a bridegroom and his people as his bride, and now Jesus claims to embody this divine bridegroom. He regards his public ministry as like a wedding celebration in that it is a time for rejoicing. Then he informs the Pharisees that during this special time of celebration, fasting is not appropriate. It is, rather, a time for sharing at the table, and Jesus shared table with all sorts of people. At table he revealed God's hospitable love, especially to those who felt beyond the reach of God's love. In keeping with that wedding image for this public ministry, Jesus goes on to speak of the new wine of his ministry. Wine is associated with sharing table, especially in the setting of a wedding feast. Jesus reminds his interrogators that the new wine of his ministry new wine calls for new wineskins, a way of life in keeping with the good news proclaimed by his life.
We are always in the presence of the risen Lord, the divine bridegroom, and he is always offering us new wine, the new wine of God's kingdom. One of the privileged moments when we are offered this new wine is at the Eucharist. Jesus' gift of new wine, the good news of God's hospitable love, will always call on us us to keep abandoning old wineskins, ways of life that are not in keeping with the good news he brings. We always stand before the Lord's call for a renewal of life that is worthy of the presence of the bridegroom. a way of life that is capable of containing in some way the new wine of God's loving presence in Jesus. [MH]