Thursday, March 3, 2022

Patches and Wineskins by Katie Snipes Lancaster

Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. Otherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment. Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins. No one who drinks a well-aged wine wants new wine, but says, ‘The well-aged wine is better.’” Luke 5:36–39

Reflection: Ripped jeans seem to be back in style, so maybe you favor the distressed-denim vibe, but regardless of your own fashion statements, there is something instantly understandable about this parable. Even centuries later Jesus’ folksy observation rings true—we don’t go to the mall for new jeans, only to rip them up and use them to patch our old ones. The new cannot fix the old.

Interestingly Jesus uses this “mini-parable” (as John Carroll calls it) when confronted by religious leaders at a banquet who are angry that Jesus throws parties instead of participating in faithful fasting. You hear him slyly turn from fabric-mending to winemaking, a very party-banquet topic. Again he offers an intuitive image—don’t put the new wine in the old brittle wineskins for all will be lost. This time the old cannot hold the new.

Then Jesus offers party advice that every oenophile knows—enjoy your well-aged wine.

As you unpack each element of this parable, you realize that Jesus is playing with old-and-new, but each time he complicates the plot, gives us another thing to ponder, and never quite spells it all out. The new cannot fix the old. The old cannot hold the new. The well-aged is better than the new. What do we make of it all?

Like poetry the parable is an art-form, imaginative, and beyond reduction, that “reverberates rather than persuades” (as Amos Wilder points out). There will not be “one” interpretation to be held up over and above all others. There will not be one way of entering this parable. But I can feel the tension Jesus is trying to provoke— something new is unfolding, grounded in what has been, well foreshadowed, prophesied, and yet unexpected, never before experienced, different than what has come before—all of that and more.

Prayer: 
Jesus of the banquet,
ground us in your ancient presence
even as we see you anew.
Amen.

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