He added this parable. “Nobody tears a piece of cloth from a new coat to make a patch on an old one. If they do, they tear the new, and the patch from it won’t fit the old one anyway.
And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins: it will go to waste, and the skins will be ruined too.
You have to put new wine into new wineskins. And nobody who drinks old wine wants new. ‘I prefer the old,’ they say.”
This is quite a rich passage, culminating in verses 36-39 which you see above. Jesus gives two vivid pictures to illustrate the truth of God’s reign.
The first one seems to be meant to be somewhat absurd. Even back in the first century, clothing shrunk from washings. Eventually it would arrive at its final size. Therefore, to sew a new patch of cloth onto an already shrunken one would cause tearing, and render both the patch and the article of clothing useless. The extra absurdity is the idea of tearing a piece of cloth from a new coat to sew onto an old one. Again, the idea is that both are ruined.
As for the second picture: Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. Wineskins back then were usually made of sheepskin or goatskin. The hair was removed and the hide was treated to prevent the skin from changing the taste of the contents. Over time the skin of this container would age and become brittle. So it would be foolish to put new wine into an aged skin because, as the new wine ferments, it expands the container and would literally burst it, since the container is brittle. So you’ve lost your container and your wine. Both are ruined.
What’s the point?
In the context of who Jesus is talking to here, He seems to be saying that you cannot just add on the new way of relating to God (through Jesus) to your old ways (in this case, the Judaism of His day as interpreted by the religious “experts”).
For us, Jesus is not something to be added on to what we’re already doing. He is not part of a self-improvement plan. He is to replace what we’ve been doing, how we’ve been relating to God and others. He interprets life, Scripture, and God for us.
He is New Wine, and if put into the old wineskin of our former ways of thought, both are ruined and do us no good. The new way requires a new heart, a new spirit. This is why Jesus calls for repentance. That is, a new way of thinking and relating. Remember the Greek word for repentance-metanoia-“change your thinking, think about your thinking.” Unfortunately, this rich word “repentance” got hijacked by televangelists some time ago, and was deemed to mean nothing more than “Stop having sex with your girlfriend/boyfriend or else!”
That is not gonna usher in new life if the heart is not made new to receive said life. That is merely trying to put new wine into an old wineskin.
John the Baptist’s message was that repentance was required to prepare the way of the Lord. New belief and thinking are required. Action will surely follow this. If the focus is on action first, generally it will just lead into behaviorism and we will fall back rather quickly.
One of the most important, and less obvious, ways of thought I believe we need to repent of, is how we think of God and ourselves and others. We said here quite a while back that if you think of yourself as less valuable than how God thinks of you, then you must repent of that way of thought or else you will remain stuck. If you think of God as one micron less than good, then you will not grow into Him. If you judge others instead of love them, you remain stagnant and cannot see the Light while in that state.
New ways must have new containers. A new form, a new spirit, a new approach are required.
But, as Jesus says at the end here (v.39), we prefer our old, easy ways to something new. We want predictable as opposed to mysteriously new, even though the new, while unpredictable, promises adventure and fulfillment beyond our imagination.
One of my absolute favorite scholars, Luke Timothy Johnson, ends his interpretation of the passage with this:
To drink the new wine offered at Jesus’ banquet, to wear the new garment for his wedding feast, one must have a new heart, go through metanoia, a change of mind, such as that shown by tax-agents and sinners.