March 2000
The Spirit of Renewal ©

Some biblical references have over time entered into such common usage that they have almost lost their spiritual significance. Such is the case for expressions such as “salt of the earth” and adages such as “new wineskins for new wine”.

The story about the use of new wineskins is found in Mark’s gospel, in which Jesus, in effect, explains that fasting must not get in the way of enjoying the presence of the Lord. He emphasises that our gestures must be suited to the occasion. To drive home this point, he recalls that if new wine is placed into an old wineskin, it will burst and the wine will be lost – both the container and the contents will suffer.

Rather, we are urged to use new wineskins, precisely because the new skins are pliable enough to expand with fermentation – to adapt to the changes imposed by the “living” wine. The same can be said for us who are temples of the Holy Spirit. In reality, we are not called to be rigid temples of stone as much as we are invited to be living instruments of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit.

What is the significance of the analogy concerning the new wineskin? What is its significance in relation to the inpouring of the Spirit’s gifts?

The one thing that characterises the activity of the Holy Spirit is creativity. The Holy Spirit makes all things new. The Holy Spirit finds new circumstance-appropriate solutions to age-old problems. The Holy Spirit is the reason why people say that God moves in mysterious ways.

Harden not you hearts

The challenge we face as Christians is to keep up with this always-energetic Spirit of Truth and Love. The challenge is to allow ourselves to be renewed as wineskins so that we can deliver to those who thirst the living wine of truth and love.

This is not only a challenge for us as individuals, it is also a major undertaking for our community and our church. Are these new wineskins? Or are they at risk of bursting and loosing the new wine? Sometimes we have to wonder.

Is this reflection a call to radical change? Not necessarily – new wine cannot be carried in a wicker basket or a sieve – but nor is it an invitation to complacency. What the analogy asks of us is a critical awareness of the instruments we use and how we use them to respond to given set of needs.

Rituals are important, as are traditions. Arguably they are as essential as an appropriate frame is essential to the enjoyment of a beautiful painting. But our use of rituals and traditions comes with the responsibility of making sure they are indeed appropriate; that they are efficacious instruments for creating the kingdom of God – in real time.

The Holy Spirit, in effect, wishes that the instruments we use reflect the creativity of God’s action in human history. The Holy Spirit would wish us to ask sometimes disturbing questions, such as: Do our rituals effectively communicate the essence of Christ’s legacy? Does the way in which we convey our traditions do justice to the “living” Word? Does our language and the symbols it encodes still efficiently project to the mind’s eye the vivid images of our fathers’ faith?

Be the Good News

Beyond the questions we may ask about the suitability of ritual and tradition in regards to our own spirituality, there are other challenging questions that we face when we consider our mission to bring to all people the Good News. Such people are no longer those in far-off lands. They are those in our neighbourhood – indeed, in our own homes – who no longer hear the Word of God. They are the people who thirst for the Good News, but cannot distinguish it from the din of a language that is foreign to their ears.

Is this challenge insurmountable? For us, yes; but for the Holy Spirit, not at all. Time and again, the Holy Spirit has inventively cut across convention to boldly reveal to the human mind and heart the primacy of Truth and Love. Therefore, we should have the confidence that eternal Wisdom will prevail. Therein lies our faith and our hope.

Yet, there is more. As followers of Truth and Love incarnate, we are called to be more than idle bystanders. Indeed, we are called to renew the incarnation – to give flesh to the creative Spirit, which we have housed deep within our soul since the confirmation of our baptismal covenant; to be the new wineskins that carry the new wine. We are called to carry this holy elixir unspoiled to those who thirst, and we are invited to be blessed and transformed ourselves by our contact with this “living” wine, for – as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians – the Spirit gives life.

If it is truly the Spirit that gives life, our life is only limited by our attentiveness, openness and response to the life of the creative Spirit of Truth and Love.