The Old is Better

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“He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:36-39)

When you have a hole in your favorite pair of jeans, you don’t sew a patch of preshrunk cloth over the hole, because the patch would rip away from the jeans, making the hole even worse. In the same way you wouldn’t pour fresh grape juice into an old wine skin, would you? If you did, the skins would not be able to expand as the juice ferments, resulting in both the wine and the skins to be ruined. No, we all know that you put new wine into a new wineskin so that both are preserved (Matthew 9:16-17, Mark’s paraphrase).

There are few texts in Scripture more intriguing and full of meaning than these. Throughout the ministry of Jesus – then and now – he calls us to a new way; to a path leading away from our tainted inclinations and toward maturity – from grape juice to well-aged wine.

It’s odd though … we often choose a different way, a foolish way, a “ruined” way.

Jesus begins this parable by stating a truth that anyone should know. Today He might begin by saying, “Don’t you see? ‘No one’ jumps out of an airplane without a parachute! ‘No one’ climbs a mountain in flip-flops! And ‘No one’ really believes that the Mariners will win the World Series!”

… and no one puts new wine into old wineskins!

In the first century it would have been common knowledge not to put new wine into an old wineskin. Everyone knew that in the natural fermentation process of wine the juice expands thus the wineskin must have the capacity to grow with it. An old wineskin has previously been stretched as far as it can go; it is rigid and brittle. Therefore the expanding wine presses the limits of its fabric and breaks through, wasting the new wine. A new wineskin has yet to be pressed to its limits and therefore has the plasticity and capacity to grow and expand with the wine.

So what is the message and how does it apply to marriage? I see the new wine as the new events and situations entering our lives – good or bad. In response to these circumstances do I have the capacity to respond with a good degree of flexibility or do I react to them with rigidity and stubbornness? If I am flexible I can receive the new wine, e.g., Robyn’s counter point of view – and allow it to mature me (us). The goal here is to get to the “old wine”; a wine of good taste, refreshment and maturity. In marriage, the goal is for us to produce a relationship that can expand over time; a relationship that allows each other to flex in the ways we believe God is leading us. In this way our union is created not out of uniformity and self-centered demands but with the firm belief God is at work in both of us to produce a mature wine – an ever-expanding bond of love. It is this love that will empower us to respond to one another with a wisdom not our own.

The call for this expansive capacity is especially important over time. It is natural for us to become regimented in how we respond to one another as the years go by. It is here where we must receive from the Spirit a new gift – an ability to respond to each other with grace and patience. Something inspired in our actions ten years ago may not be inspired today. It may be an old wineskin. The healthy exchange of ideas and beliefs will naturally cause a process in us that can be quite reactive. Without the “new gift” the events of our lives will pour into us and we will be ruined. With the gift those same events pour into our relationship resulting in the “good stuff” of marriage. Along with this, I must remember that the old wine and the old wineskins are not to be discarded. Indeed, the old wine is the “best wine” and it is found within the old wineskin. We must allow our marriages to age well. “Forsake not an old friend; for the new is not comparable to him: a new friend is as new wine; when it is old, thou shalt drink it with pleasure (Ecclesiasticus 9:10).

Personally, I am aware of my limited capacity to flex when my plans are interrupted by the daily interjections of my wife (or anyone else). I am amazed and embarrassed at how frequently this behavior shows up. Even as I am writing this paragraph I am sensitive to the irritation I feel from the interruptions going on in the next room. “Can’t you guys be quiet? I’m writing something here that will help us be more patient with each other.” Wow!

Could it be that the ultimate purpose of a new relational wineskin is to allow me to be interrupted by God when I am walking in my self-focused ways? Will I allow Him to “butt into” my agenda – my plans? Who is the better wine maker anyway? Do I dare miss the new work of God by remaining rigid and closed?

Lord, give us all we need to receive the mature wine of your love and presence. Teach us to receive the ordained circumstances of life as a new occasion to expand our souls and to remain in step with your will. Check us when we resort to the safety of our old ways; ways that will inevitably lead to loss and ruin. We rejoice in the fermenting work of your Spirit in our new wineskin. May we be intoxicated with the memories of young love, births of children, commitments maintained through storms and mutual fellowship in the Spirit. That’s the good stuff. “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Through your name we pray. Amen.

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