The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > New Wine and New Shoes

New Wine and New Shoes

By: Audrey Hammitt

We tend to get excited for certain new items in life, such as a new car, new pair of shoes, new phone, or new haircut. In most cases, we choose these changes of newness, particularly if it means we will be more comfortable, efficient, and/or stylish. However, there are also possessions, relationships, and practices in our lives we cherish as they have been, and which we would rather not replace with something new. From that well-worn sweater, to that sentimental trinket, to a long-time friend, these old faithfuls in our lives provide us with a sense of consistency and familiarity, which can preserve stability and ease, even amidst many changes. We may be hesitant or reluctant to replace something we grew fond of and attached memories to, despite how holey, tarnished, or unhealthy it has become. We might even be blind to the goodness and benefits of something new because we are so focused on the old we are used to knowing.

So, what is Jesus getting at when He talks about new and old wine and new and old wineskins in Matthew 9? 

 

A recurring example of old versus new in ballet is a dancer’s pointe shoes. Pointe shoes are handmade, and while some makers are inventing new material combinations with more durable elements like plastic, most brands still form them by tightly layering paper, glue, cardboard, and fabric. Once a dancer gets a new pair, she will likely have her own routine for how she prefers to break her shoes in. Personally, after I sew on my ribbons and elastics and glue in a heel pad, I like to use a bit of water and/or the heat of my hands to rub and push on the area of the shoe that bends when I am on demi pointe (up on the balls of the feet). I may jump up and down with the shoes, focusing on creasing that demi pointe area, as well as firmly tap the bottom edge of the shoe so that it does not sound as loud. These measures, along with frequent rises (relevés) at the barre, help me move more smoothly and quietly in the shoes during class and rehearsals. Some new pointe shoes may rub my foot and cause blisters, as new sneakers might, for which I would better prepare with protective tape the next time I wear them.

 

Depending on the frequency and type of dances we are rehearsing in a season, I can most often wear the same pair of pointe shoes for at least a few months. Over that time, the shoes that were once clean, pink, and shiny collect dirt and scuffs from the floor, wear out at the tip (called the “platform” of the shoe), and become more flimsy and molded to my feet. I feel a type of fondness toward whatever current pair I am dancing in, as I have become acclimated toward how turns, balances, and jumps feel in the shoes. Softer pointe shoes feel more of an extension of my body that helps, rather than hinders, my lines and movement. However, my tell-tale signs that my shoes are what dancers call “dead” are when my toes hurt more and it is harder to stay up on pointe (the platform becomes squishy, and the shoe becomes less firm and supportive). I can also tell they are dying if I have any moments I don’t feel safe while executing a movement (the “deadness” of the shoe might make a certain step more painful, or I might roll my ankle accidentally while lowering my heel since I am less supported by the shoe). These signs cue me that it is time to bite the bullet and prepare my next new pair of shoes, thus continuing the cycle.

In the days Jesus walked the earth, while the people around him didn’t yet know what pointe shoes would be, they did know about wine and wineskins.

While a dancer’s experience with a pointe shoe is to break in the stiff, hard shoe to make it more supple, wineskins follow an opposite process. At the time of Matthew 9, wineskins were made from animal skin, which start stretchy and supple, then they are prepared and filled with new wine. As the wine ferments, releasing natural gasses, the skins expand and are able to adapt to the maturing wine. Through time and use, the wineskins would become stiff and unable to withstand another process of storing new wine that hadn’t finished fermenting. As Jesus describes, in verse 17, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are ruined.” He uses this imagery to give his listeners a picture of how they should not try to fit the New Covenant of Jesus into the old framework of the Law and Old Covenant. Even though Jesus gives this parable, we shouldn’t assume this means to throw out the old completely, as Christ fulfills and satisfies the Law, rather than negates it. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

One parallel between this parable and dancing in pointe shoes is the element of waiting. Just like new wine is not going to taste good right away before it has had time to fully ferment, so, too, new pointe shoes are not going to feel comfortable right away. While we might think the old wine and old pair of shoes are better than the new (and it is true that old wine tastes better), we should not let the minor inconvenience and discomfort of waiting keep us stuck in our previous patterns. As I press through the temporary discomfort of new pointe shoes to find the sweet spot of feeling just right, I soon am grateful for choosing the new pair, as it affords me renewed reliability and aids the strength of my feet. Likewise, even Jesus’ disciples had to wait for a fuller understanding of the parables and truths he told. For example, after Jesus foretold about his death and resurrection, Luke 18:34 says the disciples “understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” The necessity of waiting is not a reason to fear something new, as practicing waiting might actually form us to be more humble and sensitive to the Lord’s work in and around us. Further, when we wait on the Lord, we will never be disappointed, as his will is always worth the wait.

Life is filled with cycles of newness, and although you might not use wineskins or pointe shoes, what are those old items that you’ve grown overly attached to that might negatively impact your health, perspective, and growth? We must accept our constant need for renewal, as Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He desires to transform you daily more and more into Christ’s likeness. In Jesus, we are made new! “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

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