My wife Angelita is a wonderful chutney maker. She loves experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. But when I want to taste the new product she will say – “You can try it now but it’s not at its best. Give it time to age and it will be wonderful.” She’s right of course. If I can wait long enough it does taste better. It’s the same with wine – young wine needs to sit for a good while to mature and come to its best. I prefer my chutney aged and my wine mature. I find their fuller flavours are better, comfortingly familiar.
Consuming something whilst at its best is the key. It is possible to hold on to something too long - until it is past its best. In Luke 5 Jesus used the metaphor of old and new wine to communicate that people needed to respond differently, appropriate for changing conditions. By His coming the old covenant wine was about to go off (past its shelf life) and it would be replaced by fresh new covenant wine. The good, old, comfortingly familiar ways of relating to God would soon be past their best. The eternal truth hadn’t changed but their ways of responding would soon not be relevant or appropriate. But, he admitted, new wine is more challenging to deal with. It can be very vigorous and gassy and new ways to retain it must be created. If it isn’t handled appropriately it may “burst out of the old wine skin”; then the old wine skin would be ruined, the new wine spilled on the floor and everything would be wasted!
This need to be relevant, appropriate to changes applies beyond wines and covenants. The familiar and comfortable ways we have learned to respond to God may have passed their best because conditions have changed. As we encounter God this year, it may well be in some new or less familiar, ways. We may need to adapt our structures so that those encounters are not wasted. Why does God keep challenging us to change? Because we are so easily satisfied with the way things are. We like things comfortingly familiar. Jesus expressed what we often feel… “No one after drinking old wine wants the new for he says, ‘the old wine is good enough.’” Luke 5:39 NET (The NLT translates it ‘just fine’ the NIV ‘better’.) But today’s just fine,better ways were themselves once the new and unfamiliar ways. (No doubt after enough time passes we will be saying todays’ new wine has become good enough.) So I suspect this is why the process repeats down the generations. God encounters us again and again and reshapes our responses to keep them appropriate for an ever changing society and circumstances.
In John 8:3-11 we see Jesus responding appropriately but differently to the same person in two different situations. In the public arena, surrounded by accusers, he protects a woman caught in adultery. Later, alone with her, he challenges her to stop sinning without condemning her behaviour. To the religious this was a shockingly new approach to dealing with a sinner. To them, stoning her was the familiar response – they had God’s word to justify that course of action. It had served them well for centuries. But Jesus now combined grace with truth, mercy with justice.
I think John 8:11 might be the best model we have of a caring response today to those Jesus loves but who by trauma, feelings or choices are caught into sinful behaviours that will eventually destroy them. God’s plan is always to keep His church from going off, being past its best. He wants us relevant to ever changing conditions. We need regularly to encounter God, to experience and embrace His new wine ways.
Stay faithful. Paul Ogle
It's possible to hold on to something too long - until it is past its best.
As we encounter God this year, it may well be in some new or less familiar, ways.
God’s plan is always to keep His church from going off, being past its best.
Paul and Angelita Ogle are part of the Belfrey Groups Steering Team. They also lead the Belfrey Group 'Germinators'.