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New Wine Is for Fresh Wineskins

14 February • Ash Wednesday

Mark 2:13-22

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”



Levi the tax collector, also known as Matthew (Mt 9:9), had a life changing encounter with Jesus. He was busy with his business as a tax collector working for the Roman occupying forces. Tax collectors were considered traitors and hated by the Jews, but they were wealthy. When Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, he just knew that it was time to have his life radically changed. He walked away from his tax booth and old life to follow His new Master.

Levi hosted a dinner for Jesus and invited his fellow tax collectors and sinners; many allowed Jesus to turn their lives around by following Him (v.15). Meeting Jesus was a powerful experience for these people, who were considered sinners and treated as outcasts. But this is not always so, for the Pharisees had a very different response. They were hardened in their religious ideas and habits, which prevented them from being touched by divine grace. Instead, they constantly questioned Jesus to find fault with Him, whether it was ritual washing before meals or fasting. They missed the point.

In His responses, Jesus showed that the new life that He brought to Levi and other repentant sinners was a life of joy and loving obedience, not the dry and lifeless religion practised by the Pharisees. He used the analogy of the inappropriateness of storing new wine in old wineskins to show that the Pharisees needed to change their basic assumptions if they were to experience the new life. This was not a call to discard what God had revealed in the past—what was to be discarded was false and cumbersome man-made religious scaffoldings. Fasting was good—Jesus himself fasted (Mt 4:2), but we must be careful not to end up with legalism that kills.

All this is to say that this Lent, we are challenged to focus on our relationship with Jesus. The spiritual disciplines are means to that end.



I thank You Lord for giving me new life, freeing me from that which gives false security and significance. I find my greatest joy in having fellowship with You, eating at Your table and sitting at Your feet. Let me not be distracted by minor religious pursuits that diminish my pursuit of You.



Take this opportunity to examine the foundations, directions, and contours of your life. Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to show wrongly-placed faith and hope in anything other than Christ, and the new life He offers as we place our faith and hope in Him and love Him with all our hearts.

Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon

The Methodist Church in Singapore

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