Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Let’s start dealing with some of the tougher things that Jesus said.
In Matthew 9, Jesus is confronted by the disciples of John the Baptist about the religious practices of His own followers. They ask, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?” (Matthew 9:14) Fasting was the common religious practice of the day to show one’s piety and religious fervor. Maybe that was the problem. Fasting had changed from, “Let’s skip MacDonald’s today to show God how much we love Him,” to “Let’s skip to show everybody else how good and spiritual we are.” Jesus’s team doesn’t play by those rules so John’s guys get all in a tizzy and pop the question.
Jesus responds by talking about timing, tie in, and thinking, First about timing. He says in verse 15, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” He is of course referring to the fact that He is the groom and the time that He will physically be walking on this earth among His disciples is limited. Remember in another place, when the woman comes and anoints Jesus’s feet with an expensive perfume? Some people get up in arms and say “this stuff could have been sold and given to the poor.” Jesus says, “The poor will always be with you but I will not always be here.” (Matthew 26:11) Jesus is not saying, “The poor don’t matter. I’m more important than they are.” Here He is not saying that fasting is not a good thing. He is saying that timing is important. Sometimes we need to pick our responses or our actions based on the priorities and timing of the moment. The Wise Writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff) Andy Stanley did a great sermon a few years ago called, “The Best Question Ever.” In it, he asks, “What is the wisest choice for me given my current circumstances and situation?” In other words, timing matters.
The second thing Jesus says is about the tie in, or connection. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? (Not Doris, that’s for sure.) For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger hole than before.” (Matthew 9:16) I don’t think Jesus has anything against patching clothes, something my grandkids with their “holy” jeans should be aware of. He isn’t opposed to putting old patches on old material or new patches on new material. He is suggesting, I think, that context matters. The tie in needs to be considered. Does this fit into what we really are trying to accomplish here? Is this a part of the direction that we are trying to go right now? Before I simply plug my old traditions and habitual practices into this thing maybe I should look at how it ties in with what needs to happen. He says, “You have an old, ineffective, misplaced approach to worshiping God. Don’t expect Me to just tie My new message into the stuff you are doing.”
Which leads me to the third thing Jesus says. In the last verse of this conversation He says, “And no one puts new wine in old wineskins. For the old wineskins will burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.” Wow! That’s a fascinating statement and I have no idea what it means. Jesus says some stuff every now and then that just blows my socks off, and I’m pretty sure I don’t get it completely right when I try to think about what it means. Which is kind of the point here. We need to think about a new way of thinking. One Christian writer said, “We need to think about what we think about.” I say, “We need to think about how we think about what we think about.” Not only do we need to think differently about things, we need to THINK DIFFERENTLY about things. (I know, it just blows your mind doesn’t it?)
One of Jesus’s favorite words was repent. “The time has come near. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15) Repent means to “turn around.” In some ways, to get a whole new perspective. To THINK differently. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.” Buckminster Fuller said, “You will never change things by fighting an existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Brian McLaren in The Great Spiritual Migration says, “Our problem isn’t simply a matter of having the wrong beliefs. It is a matter of believing that right beliefs are what matters most.” Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) And, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) All of that to say, maybe we need to think differently. Trying to face new issues and new challenges by just pouring them into our old paradigms is going to split our skulls, flip our lids, pop our corks.
I imagine at this point you are saying, “Hey, I just tuned in to your blog to read a funny story about Jon-Mical. Hang in there. It will be back tomorrow. (Maybe.) But for today, just think about this, when Jesus said what He said about wineskins was He saying something to us about our approach to things today? Here’s one possible application. We have our panties all in a wad about the kneeling during the National Anthem thing. (First, it is a football game. Why are you so obsessed with sports anyway? But I digress.) What if we thought about all of this in a different way?
What if we considered the timing. I love our flag. I grew up trying to remember which side my heart is on and saying the “Pledge” every morning in school. It bothers me, it really does, to see young men not standing the way I stand during the National Anthem. But maybe this is not the time to make such a big deal about that. Maybe, with all that is going on in our world, in our country, this is the time to focus on de-escalating tensions, dialing down rhetoric, being a little kinder and gentler toward one another? I can hear you saying, “But this is an important principle.” I agree. It’s interesting to me that Jesus says one of the concerns with new wine in old wineskins is that the old wineskins will be ruined. He is concerned about the old wineskins too. He’s not saying throw out the old symbols or traditions. He says, at the right time, we should all go back to fasting. But timing is important. In light of some of the hurts and wounds in our nation today, is this the best time to get heated up about this issue?
What if we considered the tie in? How does this fit in the context of our societal ills? It galls me that those young athletes that are making millions are raising their fists in the face of Old Glory? But the context? The context is that we still haven’t got this race thing right. Listen, if just one black mother is afraid to let her kids go out in the street because of what might happen in an encounter with the police then we have a ton of work to do. That is not a criticism of the wonderful police or that caring mother. It is a reminder of the context. Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” He didn’t say, “So just ignore their situation and enjoy the game.” No. He said, “If you call Me Lord, Lord and you have failed to take care of them…you’re missing the context.” The tie in is everything. Why? Why do young black kids feel compelled to wear T-shirts that say, ‘Black Lives Matter?’ Before I break out my “All Lives Matter” shirt maybe I should think about the context, the tie in.
Which leads me to the last thing, the thinking. What if we think differently as Christ followers? What if we found a way to quit thinking about right and wrong, them and us? What if we found a whole new way to think about what Jesus said? Do I think it is wrong for those guys to kneel during the Star Spangled Banner? Maybe. Does that matter at all? Absolutely not. This is not a yes or no, my way or the highway proposition. This is a, “how would Jesus react to a whole segment of the population that sees themselves as oppressed, marginalized or disenfranchised?” issue. This is a WWJD kind of thing.
Now before you get your hopes up, I don’t know the answer to these things. I haven’t got it figured out yet. But I am going to think about it, in a new way, I think Jesus would like that.