Sometimes life is very frightening — and I don’t like being scared. I avoid driving down certain streets. I take my steel-handled flash light when I make a drop-off at night. I keep my car phone on. I wouldn’t say that I’m paranoid, but I do give heed to the “word to the wise” which suggests that “there’s little regard for other people or their personal property” anymore. You just never know when someone will flip out, like the gunman did when he killed six passengers on the Long Island Railroad, or carjack you at the Exit 22 McDonald’s rest stop in I-95.
I don’t like feeling that way! I confess that I get disgusted when the rights of the individual take precedence over the rights of the community. To be clear, I am intolerant of prejudice. At the same time, it’s hard to get out of the way when the poison bombs of “isms” are so freely slung. The fallout splatters the innocent and guilty alike!
What can bind up our fractured society? Anymore, it’s “all for one … and all for one.” Where do we find meaning in an age of violence and division, an age of self-centeredness?
By far, I get the most concerned when I begin to feel a sense of resignation that “you just can’t do anything about it.” I pine for the way it was in the “good old days” when I knew who I was and how things were “supposed to be.” Yet to choose to stay in that time gone-by is to choose to give up on today. That’s opting out. That’s numbly sitting by in a trance and permitting another, more secular, more selfish agenda to dictate how we act and what we think. That’s dying!
What’s the source of meaning in life? What is it that lasts? What is it that endures? To what we can turn for lasting meaning?
Today so much seems to have been changed from what we used to know and find comfortable. It’s hard to be clear about the sustaining “stuff” of life. We run at such a flat-out pace that all goes by in a blur, until we crash and scream out in agony, “stop the world, I want to get off!”
With the rapidity of change and the scarcity of time to process it, a call to get “back to the basics” is very appealing. What the “basics” are, however, poses an open question.
Have all our creations and diversions led us so far astray from the essence of human existence that our ordinary footing is as slippery as ice-coated steps? To what can we turn?
The “golden rule” is very specific. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s good to love others as we love ourselves. Scouting standards project solid virtues: reverence, kindness, courtesy, trustworthiness, helpfulness, honesty, and bravery, to name a few.
Jesus appeals to us to show mercy, seek rightness in relationships, make peace, be humble, be empathetic and sympathetic, and stand up for what we believe. We may choose to do all of this, and still be subjected to rudeness and face hostile or threatening challenges. Even so, stand up for decency; make yours a vital witness.
Take a stand against evil. Know what’s right, and live accordingly. If we leave even a small space for evil to sneak back, it will roar in with a vengeance, with seven times the force, with infinitely greater impact, until we are overwhelmed … and consumed. Must we fall prey to it? No!
Jesus described the point of His coming and the foundation of His beliefs as new wine from God’s vineyard — a new Spirit for living. This new perspective questioned the norms of the day, especially the precise understandings of God’s laws which undergirded and gave order to everything His fellow Jews thought, said, and did. The former patterns and policies — what he described as “old wine skins,” could not flex to accommodate this fresh understanding of God’s guiding principles. Jesus’ teachings ushered in a radically new era.
Ours is a new day, too. “Baby boomers” are becoming known as the “sandwich generation,” with care-giving responsibilities for both their parents and their own children. Younger still are the “baby busters” followed by “generation X,” people in their early 20s who have emerged with a whole new sense of direction, standards, and center.
At times the language of today is both the language of yesterday and today. If you liked something 30 years ago, you’d say that it was “cool.” Today, it’s cool to say, “cool” again. On the other hand, there is a new vocabulary which was once reserved for George Carlin’s list of “seven dirty words” that couldn’t be used on television or radio. Now I hear words used very casually which would have caused my mouth to be washed out with soap had I ever used them, even as a teenager! Is that the new wine in new wine skins?
Ask police officers about the respect they receive from junior high-age boys and girls. “Yes sir” and “no sir” were the extent of conversations I might have had with a sergeant of the Garden City Police Department. If he’d said, “move,” I’d have been awarded a gold medal in recognition of my exiting speed. Now fifth graders pull out more powerful guns than the patrol officers carry, and mockingly ask, “so, who’s gonna make me move?” Defiance and disrespect… Is that the new wine in new wine skins?
“‘Girls who were bullies’, is our topic today,” said Sally Jessy Raphael one afternoon. One panel member said, rather defiantly, “I’m tough, and nobody better get in my face. They won’t like what happens if they do!” In response, Sally said, with amazing astuteness, “So … you’ve been a bully.” For most of the next hour tough talk dominated the show. Predatory toughness … is that the new wine in new wine skins?
Once it was beer. Later it was drugs. Now it’s alcohol again. Some kids drink to the point of personal danger. “You have to drink to be cool,” one youth panelist said at a recent town-wide meeting. “It’s just the expected thing to do. People look at you funny if you don’t.” “Our young people should not be drinking,” said a parent. “But please excuse me, I’ve got to go” … go to a celebration of student achievement where liquor flowed freely and adults lost personal control and dignity. One man reportedly slurred, “You can’t tell me not to drink! It’s my right!” Personal privilege, is it? Mixed messages for personal convenience. Is that the new wine in new wine skins?
Viktor Frankl learned something of the core meaning of life during his internment at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II. Literally stripped of everything — his clothes, his dignity, his hair, even his name, he learned that “The salvation of man is through love and in love” (Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 36). Even when despair seemed the only standard, the only emotion left, he realized that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose … one’s own way” (p. 65). When all reason seemed to tumble down and the only mores were those of the Vicious SS troops, Frankl observed, “the men who allow their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp’s degenerating influences” (p. 69). In the face of total deprivation, torture, and death, he struggled to find hope and to offer hope to others. He learned that “right action” and “right conduct” (p. 77) would sustain him and his fellow prisoners. “The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected” (p. 101). The hope of a better, gentler life. Is that the new wine in new wine skins?
Jesus drew upon common imagery to make His meaning clear. He chose the vineyard as a symbol of the world in which we live, the wine produced from the pressing of the grapes as a reminder of the Word of God, and the wine skin to represent the parameters which order our living. When Jesus offered new wine (a fresh expression of God’s timeless truth) in a new wine skin (the discipline for life), it was a breath of freedom from the tyranny of human standards.
Jesus came into the world we know so that He could save lives. Jesus lived in such a way that we could see what “abided” in life. The Sabbath laws prevented work on the Holy Day. His disciples, however, gathered food on the Sabbath. Jesus performed seven miracles — five healings, one restoration, and an exorcism, on Sabbath days. All of that ran counter to the “strict constructionist” interpretation of the Law by the Pharisees. Being a compassionate servant who freed others from their fears and the heavy hand of artificial restriction. Is that the new wine in new wine skins?
Jesus said that he came not to rewrite, but rather, to complete the Law — the law of love, the law of the Living God.
Jesus’ new way is the new wine in new wine skins. Jesus came to show people how their lives could be more meaningful, their relationships richer, their existence more peace-filled. Jesus came to proclaim that the power of sin no longer has control over us! Jesus helped and forgave. Jesus gave love and hope. Jesus invited and shared. Jesus embraced and clarified. Jesus challenged and Jesus died, and Jesus lives! And in His life, we find the meaning for living that the world obscures and ignores. In Him, we find the truth that frees us for lives of purpose and power.