Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.”’
Writing in September 2018, I cannot know at what stage Brexit will be when this reflection is published. However, I can see similarities between the Brexiteers (new wineskins for new wine), and the Remainers (old wineskins for good old wine). Not a perfect parallel admittedly, nor is the notion of the EU as a rather overbearing husband dealing very strictly with Britain, the reluctant wife seeking a divorce. However, let us hope that the outcome will mean a good separation (if separate we must), rather than a prolonged ‘fast’.
Appearing in Matthew Mark and Luke, this Parable points up the relationship of the new to the old, a recurring theme in the Gospels, and, indeed, throughout the New Testament. If a seamless progression between the old and the new (the evolutionary approach) seems desirable, there always appears to be a tension between the two. In the Church, tradition is the natural habitat of some, and adventurousness the temperament of others. Reconciling the two is never going to be easy. Faith incorporates both tradition and adventure, with their strengths, and weaknesses.
Jesus acknowledges the religious tradition of his upbringing, but opens it up to new understandings. So it must be for us. The missionary impulse which beats at the heart of our faith imbues us with a questing spirit, convincing us that God ‘has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word’. Faith as a pilgrimage takes us on new paths and on to new expressions.
Faith has many definitions, but ‘faith as risk’ is the one that seems to incorporate the sense of adventure without which our faith becomes a past experience rather than a living thing. Adventuring out in Christ’s name seems a fit response from us to the one who risked his all for us.
Gracious God my faith is so cautious, measured out carefully to be in control. Generous beyond measure your Son risked all for me to show what love means. Forgive me for the poverty of my response to your goodness. Open me out to your Spirit’s promptings, that your Son’s ways may become my ways.
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the Scottish Synod, member of Giffnock URC
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