“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2, verses 21-22
One of the things I find most compelling about Jesus’ teachings is that they are rooted in common sense things we can understand. If you were on living in First Century Judea, you would understand the concept of wine in wineskins. You see, potable, drinkable, sanitary water was hard to come by in that time and place, much like it still is today throughout most of Africa, Asia and South America. If you wanted something reliable to drink, you drank wine. It probably wasn’t the quality of a 2003 Opus One; it would have been more like 2014 Mad Dog 20/20. It wasn’t grape juice because that would spoil or naturally ferment anyway. No, they drank wine because the alcohol in the wine preserved something potable to drink.
Have you ever made wine? In addition to being an aspiring writer, I’m an aspiring vintner. My wife and I are opening a winery, hopefully in the coming year. We’ve made wine already and have learned a few things in doing so. One of them is that, when you ferment juice into alcohol, if you don’t give the carbon dioxide a way to escape, it will expand and burst your container. That’s what new wine does; it’s chemistry not spirituality. Hence, Jesus’ allegory about pouring new wine into old wineskins makes perfect sense. Skins – actual leather skins used in old days to hold wine – were only useful once. If you poured fresh wine into them, that wine would still ferment and, because there wouldn’t have been a way for the CO2 to escape, the old, used skins would leak, ruining both the wine and the wineskin used to store it.
Isn’t that the way with new teaching? Teaching old dogs new tricks?
And then there is the example of cloth. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. It cost money to keep a growing boy clothed. I would constantly, regularly wear out the knees and sides of my jeans. My mom, who grew up in the Depression, would do what countless generations before her had done: she would sew patches onto my jeans. That way, they would be re-enforced and I could get a few months more use out of them. When she did so, she would try to weather the patch, so it would wear better. I suppose I was like new wine, bursting out of my old wineskin blue jeans (or corduroys, which I still won’t wear to this day).
Isn’t that the way with new teaching as well? In good and bad ways, the new doesn’t always easily jive with the old, does it?
So I take Jesus’ lessons to heart because He expresses them using everyday things that everyday people like me can understand. He did that so that He might meet us where we are and recognize Him when He does. That He might convey understanding of things we needed to know. Knowing that, tonight I may just have a glass of new, cheap wine while wearing my worn Levi’s.
Jesus, thank you for speaking in ways I can understand.
Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 18-22.