If Jama and I were independently wealthy and lived in Boston or New York, I'm pretty sure we'd be really serious Oenophiles. Those of you who aren't lovers of good wine can look up the word in Webster's. Right now we're working our way through the limited selection of Argentinian Malbec wines that the state-monopolized New Hampshire Liquor Store offers. Previously we were doing Spanish reds. I still can't tell you much about what makes a good Rioja (other than that it is made with Tempranillo grapes), but I can tell you that a fair number of them are made from "old vines." And here's a curiosity: New Wine is often made from old vines.
The contemporary church often uses this passage from Luke as the reason for making all kinds of changes in worship, and especially as a banner for planting new churches instead of revitalizing the old ones. But I don't think any of that was on Jesus' mind when he shared this set of statements:
Luke 5:33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
I would seriously question whether Jesus ever said all of these statements at the same time. Notice that, while the intended audience is the same in each case, verse 34 begins, "And Jesus said to them..."; verse 36 begins, "He also told them a parable..." It seems to me likely that these are stand-alone statements that Luke compiled because of the thematic similarity. So let's take each on its own merits:
vs. 33-35 aren't about Jesus establishing new worship practices. They are about the immediacy of Jesus and his relationship with all who believe. He is the groom! We are the bride! John's disciples were waiting for Messiah with prayer and fasting. Any devout woman of that time would have done the same as she anticipated her wedding day. And, should the groom of a young bride be murdered, she would go to prayer and fasting again in her deep sadness.
In the same way, material was precious in those days. If you had a garment, you took great care to make sure it was preserved. I think the focus in verse 36 is more on what would happen to the new garment (it would be damaged) in order to patch an old (presumably worn-out) garment. The new here represents the wholeness of one who is without sin. The old represents the brokenness of one who has been aged by his sin.
Change... real change...heart change is hard. The parable of the wine and wine skins is about the fact that we like our sin like we like old wine. We're comfortable with it. We've been drinking this particular vintage for a long time, and we don't want to try new wine, even if it was grown from old vines! But any wine left out long enough, sours and goes bad. And just like the workman who nurses the same cup of coffee until the cup has absorbed the color like litmus paper, drinking the same wine over and over and over will become either an idol or a sin to us and turn us sour too.
These are not days of anticipation and of fasting! Church, wake up and see! The Groom is HERE! Put on your best new garment. Break out the finest new wine! Revel! He is here. Come, let us feast!
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.