Reading Luke 5 as part of the Bishop Ken Carter’s year-long invitation to United Methodists to read Luke-Acts together, I was struck by the difference between Luke and Matthew with regard to new wine.
First, Matthew 9:16-17:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Then, Luke 5:36-39:
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.’”
The endings are what I am puzzling over. In Matthew it ends with “and both are preserved,” referring to the new wine and new wineskins. In Luke, Jesus speaks of old wine, noting that no one wants new wine if they have tasted old wine.
For they say, “The old is better.”
I confess to being confused by that last line, especially since the phrase “new wineskins” usually means in our culture an appeal to innovation and breaking free of the old ways that would hamper what Jesus is up to.
Is Jesus saying the old is better? That is undoubtedly true for actual wine. New wine is just crushed grapes. It has not fermented yet into wine. So, I can see allusions to maturity and development. If we press the idea of “spirits” we might even see a suggestion that the disciples are not yet filled with the spirit the way unfermented wine lacks alcohol.
Or is Jesus explaining that if he had his disciples practice the old ways they would acquire a taste for that old wine and not tolerate the new? Is he saying, in essence, he can’t let them practice the old ways because they would not be willing to do new things once they did?
I’m not sure what to make of it.