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Center for Action and Contemplation

New Wineskins

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Following Jesus

New Wineskins
Sunday, January 20, 2019

Jesus said, “People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” —Matthew 9:17

Christians have often preached a Gospel largely comprised of words, attitudes, and inner salvation experiences. People say they are saved, they are “born again,” yet how do we really know if someone is saved? Are they actually following Jesus? Do they love the poor? Are they free from their ego? Are they patient in the face of persecution?

It’s not enough to talk about some kind of new inebriating wine, some new ideas. Without new wineskins—changed institutions, systems, and structures—I would argue that transformation cannot be deep or lasting. As Dorothy Day (1897–1980) often said in her inimitable Kingdom style, “Nothing is going to change until we stop accepting this dirty, rotten system!” Personal “salvation” cannot be divorced from social and systemic implications.

It’s easier to talk about the wine without the wineskins, to talk about salvation theories without any new world order. Unfortunately, Christianity has not always had a positive impact on Western civilization and the peoples it has colonized or evangelized. So-called Christian nations are often the most militaristic, greedy, and untrue to the teacher we claim to follow. Our societies are more often based not upon the servant leadership that Jesus modeled, but on the common domination and control model that produces racism, classism, sexism, power seeking, and income inequality.

That’s not to say our ancestors didn’t have faith, that Grandma and Grandpa were not good people. But by and large we Christians did not produce positive change in culture or institutions that operated differently than the rest. Christianity has shaped some wonderfully liberated saints, prophets, and mystics. They tried to create some new wineskins, but often the church itself resisted their calls to structural reform. Take for example the father of my own religious community, Saint Francis of Assisi. He was marginalized as a bit of a fanatic or eccentric by mainline Catholicism, as illustrated by no Pope ever taking his name until our present Pope Francis.

Even today many Christians keep Jesus on a seeming pedestal, worshiping a caricature on a cross or a bumper-sticker slogan while avoiding what Jesus said and did. We keep saying, “We love Jesus,” but it is more as a God-figure than someone to imitate.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 30-31.

Image credit: Crucifixion (detail), Georges Rouault, 1937.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What does it mean to follow Jesus? I believe that we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been “bitten” by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us. —Richard Rohr
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