"New wine is poured into fresh wineskins" (Mark 2:22).
This week's readings are filled with stories about new wineskins. And they give us something to think about at the start of the year.
For example, after Saul is rejected for disobedience, David is anointed as the new king of Israel. God is trying to do something new, and David is the new wineskin.
When David fights Goliath, Saul tries to outfit him in armor and give him a sword. But God is trying to teach Israel a new way to fight. So David goes into battle with his sling and some stones. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that David conquered Goliath "and did it without a sword." This is a call for Israel to have new level of trust in God — to become a new wineskin.
The people celebrate David's achievement. But Saul is jealous and plans to kill David — he doesn't want the new wineskin.
The same pattern comes through in the Gospel readings for the week. Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath. He's calling for a new wineskin. Then He appoints the 12 apostles as the foundation of a new Israel. He's creating a new wineskin.
The people flock to Jesus, just as they flocked to David. But the Pharisees plot to kill Jesus, just as Saul plotted to kill David. Finally Jesus' own relatives try to seize Him, saying "He is out of his mind." They don't understand the new wineskin.
This helps to explain the Messianic secret, a significant feature of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus repeatedly tells people (and demons) not to make His identity known. This sometimes puzzles people. Why would Jesus not want to be known?
The simple answer is: because the common conception of the Messiah at the time was an old wineskin.
Based on God's word, people expected a Messiah. But they expected the Messiah to be a political or military figure. Jesus didn't want people to try to force Him into those categories. He was the new wine who wouldn't fit into that old wineskin. Not only was He the new wine, He was fashioning people's hearts into a new wineskin so they could receive the Messiah as the conqueror of sin and death — something far greater than any political or military foe.
As we look out over the last year, what new wine has God been trying to pour into our lives? And what's the old wineskin — the thing or pattern in our lives that needs to change in order to hold the new wine? Think of it this way: what one thing in our lives, if added or removed, would make everything else different and better? Whatever that is — whatever new pattern of thinking or feeling or acting God is trying to bring about in us — that's where we're called to become new wineskin.