Old Wine; New Wine
Today’s reading: Joshua 19-20; Luke 5:17-39
9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:9
39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:39
Law and order in society is a good thing, as long as one knows when to be flexible and receptive to something new.
In ancient Israel, the borders of the tribal lands were carefully specified. Those borders were not to be violated but kept as an inheritance for succeeding generations within each tribe. There was law and order with regard to the territorial borders of the twelve tribes.
Cities of refuge were designated to protect a person guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the killing of another person unknowingly or unintentionally. We might say “killing by accident.” There was law and order concerning involuntary manslaughter.
The Israelites in Moses’ and Joshua’s days were well-taught about the importance of keeping the law. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees taught and demonstrated careful adherence to the law, as they understood it. The problem was the Pharisees found it easier to stick with tradition than to consider the possibility of some new element being introduced into their world. They accused Jesus of blasphemy when He forgave a man his sins. They grumbled when Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. They questioned the piety of Jesus’ disciples because of their failure to fast often and offer prayers.
Jesus responded to their criticisms with explanations that showed He did not violate the law but did go beyond their traditional understanding of lawfulness. He had power to forgive sin. He came to call sinners to repentance. His presence in the world was like a wedding, not a funeral, and it changed everything.
Jesus told them that resistance to the new is natural and comfortable, but it is not always acceptable. Law and order is good, but sometimes receptivity and flexibility is needed because God was doing a new thing in sending the Son of Man. The law had only revealed the sinfulness of Man. Jesus brought the new wine of the gospel, forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him.
Beware of the error of the Pharisees who extended faithfulness to the law beyond its limits and turned it into rigid resistance to the gospel and rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.