Today the gospel lesson in the daily office lectionary is Luke 5:33-39:
“33 Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’34Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ 36He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37And 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. 38But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’*
I have to say that what I find striking is the contrast between the old and new that Jesus brings up in the parable he tells the Pharisees and their scribes. We have the new and old garments and the old and new wines in their respective wineskins.
In both cases Jesus makes it pretty darn clear that you cannot shoe horn new ways of doing things, or new ways of being into old habits or existing structures.
For the garment, no one would think of ruining a brand new shirt by cutting a piece of it off to mend an older worn-through shirt. The results would be horrible, in the end, ruining the new shirt and not mending the old. This makes perfect sense to our minds I think…I mean, I get it. I can see it. I can relate to what Jesus is saying in this portion of the parable.
However, when it comes to wineskins and new and old wine, I am at a bit more of a loss. Now, instead of going into the process of what happened in the ancient world with whole goat skins and the fermentation process, instead I’d like to think about the last verse of our passage for today:
“And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’” John 5:39
Why would people say that the old wine is good (some translate the word, “good” as, “better.”)? Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from the old ways of doing things into the new ways of things? For the whole passage here, isn’t Jesus saying that the new way of relating to God through the radical Good News that Jesus teaches the BEST way to be, to relate to God? So why this quizzical last verse?
Because, like the first part of the parable where both garments are ultimately ruined if you try to patch an old one with a piece cut from the new cloth, the statement is true. Jesus is naming a true human characteristic: no one really likes change.
The wine, much like the Good News that Jesus is offering, is new. It is not comfortable in our mouths. We do not know what to expect, necessarily, when we drink it. It may be a bit sour to our tongues, it may not be as polished or finish as smoothly. It may even be shocking or bitter to our tastes.
But, that is just the point: the life to which Jesus calls us, the lives we are to live as followers of Christ may not fit neatly into our same-old ways of living. Where are the places where you feel the new heavenly wine of your faith–the faith that enlivens you and resonates through your very being–rubs against the old wine skin of worldly life? Which will you choose to adjust to make room for the other?