What does “Old Wine in New Wineskins” mean?

New Wine in Old Wineskins

Jesus told this parable at Luke 5:36-39 about the old and new garment and the old and new wine when he was at the reception threw by Levi the tax collector.

At this reception, the Pharisees and scribes complained about 2 things regarding Jesus and his disciples.

  1. Why do Jesus mix around with the sinners and tax collectors
  2. Why do Jesus party all the time and not fast and offer prayers

The reply to the first question is a familiar one. Jesus said that he has not come for those who are well but for those who are sick. He has not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

The reply to the second question is that this is the time for celebration because He is with them. Fasting time will come when He is taken away from them.

Since He has already countered the complaints, why the parable?

This is because the 2 complaints are not the crux of the issue. And Jesus wants to address the actual cause.

I believe the issue has to do with the Pharisees treating Him like any other prophets and trying to place him within their religious system. Staying away from sinners, and fasting and praying are what religious leaders do.

A perceptive Pharisee would be able to tell from the parable that Jesus is refusing to be part of the existing system. A brand new system is what He is bringing. A system that will not tolerate the old.

The Old and New garment

I don’t know why but I have always thought that this parable refers to patching the old garment that perhaps have a tear in it. It is probably from my own cultural background where I have seen my grandmother tried to repair clothes when they are torn by patching them.

However, a more attentive read showed that I was wrong. There is no mention that the old garment was torn. Yes, it is an old garment, but it was wearable, no tears and no holes.

He said that no one would do that, that is, take a piece off a brand new clothing (making the new unwearable) and sew it onto an old garment.

But what in fact he is saying is, the Pharisees are trying to do that. He is the new garment and the Pharisees’ system is the old garment. They are trying to take bits of what He is (healing and feeding, I presume) and add to their existing system. It wouldn’t work.

The old is good enough

Jesus said that the old wine is good enough. If we parallel the new wine as Jesus and the old wine as the Pharisees, then this sentence is saying that the Pharisees’ system is good enough but not the best.

Have you heard of this saying, “Good is the greatest enemy of the great”?

If I was a Pharisee back in Jesus’ time, I will be very uncomfortable with what Jesus said. Like a thorn in the flesh that cannot be ignored. He said that there is no way He would join us, and that the current Pharisaic system is not great. He gave me no leeway to maneuver. This really leaves me not much choice. It is either admit my mistake (which could mean denying my entire life) and join Him or get rid of Him.

And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new wine

Jesus just predicted that the Pharisees would choose to get rid of Him. I think He antagonized them on purpose. Yet He didn’t have a shouting match with them. He told them a parable and embedded the truth in it. What can the Pharisees do? Fume I guess. Then go back and plot in secret.

Jesus is so cool.

Luke 5:36-39 NASB
36And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.
37″And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined.
38″But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
39″And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'”