The metaphor of the vine and branches is one of the simplest of the Gospel stories. As any good gardener would know, the fruit will not grow on all of the shoots, and it will reach the best ripeness only if the vines are pruned ferociously. Wimpy snipping of stray shoots will yield a terrible harvest.
But once the vine has been tended, the grapes harvested, and the wine fermented, it must be aged. The aging is done in barrels, which are lashed by hoops to keep the boards from separating. The barrel making is done by the coopers and hoopers in the trade. When the wine is finally ready to siphon it out of the barrels, it is either bottled or placed in leather sacks, which are worn over the shoulder by those who carried it around. The sacks were made from pig skins and treated to be without holes or blemishes. The finer the leather, the less oxygen degraded and the fewer impurities infiltrated the wine.
What do you do with your old wineskin when it is empty? The best thing to do is throw it away, because, as the parable says, new wine demands new wineskins:
“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ (Luke 5:36-39)
The following meditation is believed to have been written by an Egyptian monk and hermit by the name of Macarius. He was born in 300 AD and died in 391. A remarkable man, Marcarius was an ascetic, a writer, a monastic, a priest, and a very wise man. He has been dubbed, “The Lamp in the Desert”. He was exiled for many years, gave away his family fortune and led an unusual life no matter how you look at it. Below are two paragraphs attributed to him. The words were written three centuries after Christ walked on the earth. (Changes in gender and in emphasis are added to the translation.)
Lectio Divina – Wineskins
Whoever approaches God and truly desires to be a partner of Christ must approach with a view to this goal, namely, to be changed and transformed from her or his former state and attitude, and become a good and new person, harboring nothing of “the old lady/man” (2 Cor 5:17). For in the same verse it says, “If any woman or man is in Christ, she/he is a new creature.” For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this reason, to change and transform and renew human nature, and to recreate this soul that had been overturned by passion through the transgression. He came to mingle human nature with his own Spirit of the Godhead. A new mind and a new soul and new eyes, new ears, and new spiritual tongue, and, in a word, new humans – this was what he came to effect in those who believe in him. Or NEW WINESKINS, anointing them with his own light of knowledge so that he might pour into them new wine which is his Spirit. For he says, “New wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mt 9:17)
For just as the enemy took men and women under his hand and made them new for himself by covering them with evil passions and anointing them with the spirit of sin, and pouring into them the wine of all iniquity and evil teaching, so also the Lord, having redeemed them from the enemy, made them new. He anointed them with his spirit and poured into them the wine of life, the new teaching of the Spirit. For he who changed the nature of the five loaves and into the nature of the multitude, and gave a voice to the irrational nature of an ass, and converted a prostitute to purity, and prepared the nature of burning fire to become dew upon those in the furnace, and tamed the nature of wild lions for Daniel, is able also to change the soul that was barren and savage from sin to his own goodness and kindness and peace by holy and good “Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)