Acts 2:1-13 They are full of new wine

In a sense, the scoffers are right. The disciples are full of new wine. Without meaning to, they use Jesus’ own language, when he says that you cannot put new wine into old wine skins (Luke 5:33-39). Their very scoffing in the presence of the miracle of Pentecost shows that they are the old wine skins, bloated and contented with old wine that has never been tapped and drunk for the good of the world, too overfull to allow anything new to enter in. Yet the miracle is there, and what’s remarkable about this passage is that the scoffers get so little attention. Most people, Luke says, can see and at least wonder at the miraculous when it occurs, and they don’t have to be part of any special community to do so. For here are the disciples, holders of a fragile sense of community, recently broken at the crucifixion, gathering in a house with wide open windows instead of a room with locked doors. A rushing wind arrives, tongues of flames settle over them, and passerby on the street gather at the windows. The disciples make no attempt to close the shutters – they are not secretive, nor self-protective. Instead they welcome the interlopers, and their generosity is a translating force. Their words become comprehensible to everyone.

Let’s pause and reflect on how remarkable this is. The disciples have every reason to hate and to be afraid. Their new community has every reason to become a cult, full of secret knowledge and hidden rituals in dark rooms. Instead, from the very beginning, their community is wide open to the rest of the world, regardless of what that brings. Yes, there will be moments when persecution will cause them to gather in catacombs. But here in Acts the message is clear. Esoteric rituals known only to initiates will never be the norm. Instead there will be a widening, a generous invitation to any passerby, a willingness to expose the fragility of community to forces that might be cynical, cruel, and intending destruction. There is so much courage in this, so much willingness to love and to ignore the potential of hate.

There is also a startling willingness to set aside ideas of perfection. No one is asking the passerby who gather at the windows whether they’re worthy of witnessing the miracle. Some of them clearly aren’t. But, of course, the disciples aren’t particularly worthy, either. Throughout Luke’s Gospel we saw them as very flawed – frequently misunderstanding Jesus, arguing about status, running away from sorrow and pain. Their knowledge of their flaws must remain to them. The past isn’t erased by the resurrection, it’s redeemed. It lives inside of them, and makes them humble, and that humility makes them generous. Who are we, they ask themselves, to tell any of these people gathering at the windows that they’re unworthy? We’re unworthy, and yet we’re accepted. We’re unworthy, and yet we’re loved. If this is true even of us, surely it must be true of everyone else.

This will remain one of the most important features of this resurrection community. Again and again, they will be tempted to become insular, to exclude strangers because of  the slights, even the violence, of their enemies. Again and again they will turn away from this temptation and resolve to keep the windows open, which means that both people who scoff and people who wonder will look in. It doesn’t matter. They’ve decided to become a new wine skin, and full of new wine.

Karl Stevens
Karl Stevens is an Episcopal priest, a spiritual director, and a writer and artist. As a priest he has served as a college chaplain, a parish priest, a diocesan missioner, and a director of children and youth formation. As a spiritual director he has worked privately with directees and led groups of other directors in organizing retreats and special events. As an artist, he co-curated the EASE Gallery, created a series of paintings on the Stations of the Cross that have been used by area churches, and displays work and writings on kpbstevens.com. In addition to all of this, he is the co-host of the Lost in the Wilderness podcast, along with Rabbi Daniel Bogard. He is married with one child and lives in Grandview Heights.