“Comparisons are odious.”
It’s a very old English phrase which means that you can’t compare things that are different. To compare them, they have to connect in some way. “I like cheese, but I dislike jam” makes sense (in a comparison of sandwich fillings). “I like cheese but I dislike astronauts” makes, er, somewhat less sense.
At the end of Luke 5 there is a remarkable pile-up of fake comparisons that do not work. ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.’ The critics were making the assumption that Jesus was the same sort of prophet as John the Baptist, and so compared the two. But there is no comparison, said Jesus, for John and I belong to two different categories. It’s like confusing a wedding with a funeral. John taught repentance and sorrow for sin: a funeral for an old way of life! And Jesus brings the joy of the new – a wedding-feast of happiness!
And then Jesus gives two more brilliant little word-pictures of how the old cannot be compared to the new.
“‘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. “
The word “match” is important. These two categories simply do not connect. They do not match. It’s ridiculous to think they could. You can’t play wedding music at the funeral. It’s inappropriate.
I remember, as a young musician, being asked to play in a church meeting. There was a whole group of us with our guitars and drums. The trouble was that the Organist was either not told of this new arrangement or decided to insist on doing what she had always done. Predictably, chaos ensued, plus an unpleasant awareness that both sides had been dishonoured.
“ 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.”
New wine is wine fermenting. A wineskin is an animal skin, usually goat, removed by cutting around the neck and hoofs enough to peel the skin off, partially tanned but pliable. All openings were sewed to seal except the neck. Grape juice was poured in to ferment, then the neck sewn to seal. It was their version of a wine barrel. As the wine fermented, the skin flexed to accommodate the fermenting gasses. If the juice was placed into an old wineskin, it could not stretch, creating a “wine bomb” where both the wine and the skin were lost.
Jesus wasn’t teaching about making wine. The point He was making was that God was doing a new thing, and it could not be contained in the old system, the old container.
How about you? Do you attempt to put Jesus into an old dried raisin-like skin? What has changed and stretched in you concerning your Christian faith in the last few years? Have you stretched as the kingdom ferments in you? Have you stretched in worship, praise, giving, prayer, reading the Bible, ministering, anything? We all have a tendency to get wrinkled and ridged after time. If we do, we become wine bombs. Stay pliable or explode!
And there’s one more sentence inthis passage:
“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 is the only gospel writer who includes this statement by Jesus into the story. At first glance it doesn’t make sense. Why would Jesus say, “The old is better“? It’s a warning about the lure of the familiar. We become familiar with the taste of the old,to the point of resenting the new and the unknown. The old seems safe. The new is a risk, but change requires risks.
The trouble was that their loving the old caused them to miss the new. That’s the warning. You miss the new if you’re addicted to the old.
What about you and me? Have we wrinkled and dried? Does God want to do something new ? What worked yesterday doesn’t work today. What excited a person about church and Jesus yesterday doesn’t excite them today. In fact, it seems to push them away from God.
I believe one thing God is about to do is take church to people and not expect people to come to church. To that, most of us say (including me), “The old is better. I want people to come here.”
I know something is changing about church. The kingdom of God is advancing. We must remain open for change and take risks. What God did yesterday was good and new, but eventually every day ends. The once new day becomes yesterday and a new day begins. What does God have planned for tomorrow?
Will we miss it, or drink it up?
Are we flexible wineskins or a dried up unusable raisin skins? I don’t know about you, but I want to stretch with new wine in me.