Sometimes parabolic speech is supposed to draw us into its enigmatic character, forcing us to consider and reconsider what we’ve heard (e.g., the parable of the dishonest manager from Luke 16). Other times, however, I think Jesus speaks in analogy to make things simpler. This morning’s lesson from the gospel (Mark 2:13-22) is beckoning me to revisit it but within a simpler framework.
In the past, I’ve heard some of my colleagues focus on the end of the lesson—“no one puts new wine into old wine skins”—as a metaphor for spiritual growth. The infer from Jesus’ words an instruction for those who might wish to follow him: “If you want to be my disciple, you must become new, discarding the old ways of being and embracing new life. Then you can burst forth with spiritual abundance.” For whatever reason, I’m hearing Jesus’ words in a very different light.
Instead, those last few verses from the reading seem to be a “duh” statement. They aren’t begging for a complicated interpretation—quite the contrary. Today, they say to me, “My words are simple and straightforward. Only an idiot would put fresh wine into old wineskins. Everybody knows that.” Thus, Jesus’ analogy, intended to reground his hearers in everyday logic, invites them to take everything else he’s said at face value. “Why am I eating with tax collectors and sinners? Because they need me. Why are my disciples not fasting? Because we are celebrating together. Can’t you see that?”
It’s easy for me to lose sight of the obvious. “What am I supposed to do?” I often ask God. “How am I supposed to recognize your will in this situation?” God’s gentle answer reminds me that I’ve often overthought the situation. Jesus came to save the lost. Why does it need to be any more complicated than that?