You may be tired of my tales of weird butterflies but this was just too strange not to share. One week after my first bizarre encounter, another painted lady paid me a visit. Initially, I only saw its shadow being cast from the far side of my coffee mug. The sun was rising and its elongated silhouette made it appear much larger than it actually was.
I got up to get my camera but when I returned, it had vanished. I assumed it flew away. That is until I went to sip my coffee. There it was floating lifeless in my mug! I was stunned, then disgusted and ultimately saddened. I had killed it! I had cut short its two-week life span. What kind of monster am I?
As I was dumping the coffee on the ground, its wings started to flutter and it was miraculously resuscitated. It sat glaring at me, slowly opening and closing its wings as droplets of coffee fell to the ground. Would it ever fly again? I like sugar in my morning joe and today I treated myself with hazelnut flavored grounds. So you would think the stickiness alone would render its wings inoperable.
As we sat looking at each other, I noticed something else. Just like its cousin from the prior week, this little creature was also wounded with a hunk of it hindwing missing. In addition to the dangers of the natural world, this little fellow had a double dose of misfortune. After only a few minutes of convalescing from its near death experience, it flew away.
So, why am I being visited by wounded butterflies? I feel like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The sender of these visitors must know ghosts would likely give me a literal heart attack, so sending butterflies must be the Wendy McCaig alternative to the story.
The strange thing about both wounded messengers is that they appeared as I was reading the book of Luke looking for guidance in how to nurture healthy communities. (See “Nurturing the Spirit” for more about this quest.) This time, I was reflecting on a passage of scripture that is unique to the Gospel of Luke found in Chapter 5:33-39. It is the parable about new and old wine.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”
The context in which Jesus shares this parable is the key to its interpretation. From the time he starts his earthly ministry in Chapter 4, to this parable at the end of chapter 5, he had been confronted by the religious leaders repeatedly. They drove him out of his home town (Luke 4:29), they said he was speaking blasphemies for claiming to forgive sins (Luke 5:21), and they questioned why his disciples did not fast (Luke 5:33), they rebuked him for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30).
I believe Luke’s placement of this parable is in direct response to the persistent attacks by religious leaders.
In this parable, Jesus is saying the old containers (wineskins) will not hold new wine. In other words, the old structures of the religious establishment will not work for the new movement he is ushering in. What is interesting to me is that he does not say “old wineskins are bad.” He simply says, new wine needs new wineskins. He also does not condemn the old wine. He simply says, “No one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’” It is clear that those who are used to drinking old wine cannot appreciate new wine.
As we think about the types of containers that are needed for community building efforts that are emerging in a new context, we have to accept that the old structures that were used in the past simply will not work. We also need to recognize that those most likely to build these new structures are likely not be the religious elite who say, “The old is good.”
So what does all this have to do with my hazelnut smelling winged friend? Simply this. Coffee is not bad in fact I really enjoy it. My mug is designed to hold it and make it even more pleasurable. However, it is dangerous to put what does not belong, into a container that it was never designed to be in. My winged friend can testify to this! We can’t recruit emerging neighborhood leaders and plop them down in traditional religious structures that were never designed for them.
For those working in the mixed economies of local neighborhoods, where secular and sacred flow freely side by side, we have to be willing to create new containers. I believe, the clues we need for how to build new wineskins is found in the book of Luke. I can’t wait to continue our journey following these bread crumbs to see where it leads us.
I would love to know your thoughts on this parable and how it eliminates our path as we seek to nurture the spirit of community.