(Some really old wineskins, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, January 18, 2019:
I’ve never made wine in any kind of skins at all (only crocks, plastic industrial buckets, and glass carboys), but I do remember a spectacular incident as a child when my dad decided to make home brewed beer in old bottles. My best bet is he capped it when it was a little on the green side. We were playing pool down in the basement, and all of a sudden we started hearing the sound of breaking glass and smelling yeast everywhere. The bottles were popping off at the neck, and the frothy, energetic home brew was starting to make an amber river headed towards the drain. It took weeks to get the smell of old sour beer out of the basement!
Jesus and the disciples are displaying new behavior in the light of the culture. They are devout Jews, yet they are not seeming to worry much about the purity culture (eating with potentially unclean people), and not following the accepted forms of fasting. It’s clearly not setting well with the authorities. He uses the imagery of new patches on old garments and new wine in old wineskins to illustrate that new ways of seeing and being can’t simply be cobbled on the existing culture, and that growth and transformation needs a fresh and supple vessel for it to take place.
What’s interesting is the physical science behind both those images–two very different processes–hinges on water.
In the case of fabric shrinkage, when fibers (particularly natural fibers like wool and cotton) are woven into cloth, they are stretched. When those fibers are washed (and the hotter the water the more this is true), the fibers relax and go back to their more “natural” lengths, and so they shrink.
In the case of wineskins, the newer wineskins still retain a certain amount of moisture and collagen in the tissues that make up the skin. As they age, and as they sit out in the sun, they dry out. The fermentation process is slightly acidic, which dries out the skins further–and as the carbon dioxide forms in fermentation, and skins with a lower moisture content become brittle and crack as the carbon dioxide swells the skin.
Ultimately, it’s all about water…and in the case of our lives in Christ in the 21st century, perhaps we can begin to see this story through the lens of the baptismal waters and how they might affect our own fibers and our own bodily containers. In the promises we make in our Baptismal covenant, we are given the grace of a “pre-washing”, so perhaps when that new challenge in our life is patched onto the fiber of our being, our fibers have already been stretched a bit, and letting the patch “take” becomes a little easier. Perhaps those constantly churning waters, as they bathe us in our lives, and through what we discover in worship, study and prayer, keep our skin a bit more flexible, allowing us to take a little more pressure than we could have without them.
This convoluted Christian life we try to follow, always has holes that need patching, and always has new transformations bubbling up inside of us. How might our constantly-growing understanding of the flowing waters of our baptism keep our fibers a little stretched and our vessels a bit more malleable?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She presently serves as Interim Assistant Priest at two churches, Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, MO, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, MO, as they explore a shared ministry model.