by Peter Ditzel
What do a patch of fabric, a leather bag, and wine have in common? They are all used by Jesus in three related parables—parables that Jesus used to tell us some very important truths about the kingdom of God. These parables deal with a subject that affects both the things we believe and the life we as Christians are to live. They are parables that, if rightly understood, will help us understand the Bible and help us grow and mature as Christians until we come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. But misunderstanding these parables can stunt our spiritual growth.
In Luke 5, beginning with verse 36, Jesus said, “No one puts a patch of a new garment on an old one; otherwise both the new garment tears, and also the patch that was taken out of the new garment does not match with the old garment” (English Majority Text Version throughout, unless otherwise noted).
This is the first parable. Put simply, it doesn’t work to cut a piece of cloth out of a new article of clothing to patch an old one. If you do this, you ruin the new clothing by putting a hole in it, and the new patch will not match the old clothing. Also, as Matthew 9:16 makes clear, the old cloth will eventually tear away from the new patch. So, you ruin both the old and the new garments. But, Jesus is not concerned with telling us something about patching clothes.
He continues in the next two verses to explain the same principle with the second, but similar, parable. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the wineskins and it will be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But one must put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved together.”
Some of you might know that new wine gives off carbon dioxide gas. You might also know that new leather will stretch, but only to an extent. So, at the time Jesus was speaking, new wine was put into bags made out of new leather. The King James Version says “bottles,” but it doesn’t mean glass bottles. It means these leather wine bags. As the wine gave off its gas, the leather would blow up like a balloon and stretch. As the wine aged, it would stop giving off gas, and it could be kept in the now old, stretched out wineskin.
But if someone were to put new wine into one of these already stretched-out, old wineskins, what would happen? The gas from the wine would cause the old wineskin to burst. The wine would be spilled and the wineskin would be ruined.
Was Jesus trying to tell us how to make wine? No, Jesus was using common knowledge about winemaking to teach a spiritual principle. He then gives a third parable. “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
Wine connoisseurs know that old wine, aged wine, is better than new. After drinking aged wine, new wine is unpleasant. A person who has drunk old wine does not want to drink new wine.
So, what was Jesus getting at when He gave these parables? Let’s look at the context. What had just happened before Jesus spoke these words?
The Context Before
Let’s go back to verse 27 in Luke 5. We see that Jesus called Levi to follow Him. Levi, by the way, is also called Matthew—the very same Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector. The tax collectors collected money for the Roman occupational government. This made them very unpopular with the people. Not only did they collect taxes from the people, but also these taxes went to the Romans. The Pharisees considered this tax collecting for the Romans a sinful occupation, so, naturally, they did not hold Levi in very high esteem.
Now we see here in Luke 5 that after Jesus called Levi to follow Him, Levi held a banquet for Jesus, and Levi’s fellow tax collectors came.
The Pharisees were suspicious of Jesus. They were looking for ways to accuse Him. So, they asked Jesus why He eats with tax collectors and sinners, the real low life of Jewish society. Jesus responded that, just as it is the sick who need a physician, He has come to call the sinners—not the righteous—to repentance. This is why he spends time with the sinners. By the way, Jesus was not meeting with sinners where sinful activity was taking place. God does not call us to evangelize the lost by going into bars or brothels or wild parties. We would risk, not only our reputation, but also Christ’s reputation by being seen in such places. As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, we are to, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (King James Version, hereafter KJV). But Levi’s banquet was an ordinary, respectable activity.
Next, to nitpick even more, the Pharisees and disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus why the Pharisees’ disciples and John’s disciples often fast, but Jesus’ disciples do not. Fasting was considered a religious duty. By saying this, they were trying to imply that Jesus and his followers weren’t as spiritual as John the Baptist and the Pharisees. Jesus answered them with a question: “Can you make the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”
In other words, while Jesus was on the earth, it was a time for celebrating. After His death, then they will fast.
So, the Pharisees were trying to get Him in trouble for not living up to their standards of righteousness. They looked down on Him because He socialized with sinners and His disciples didn’t fast. Jesus responded by saying new cloth patches tear old garments, and new wine bursts old wineskins.
The Context After
Right after this, in Luke 6, the Pharisees again criticized Jesus, this time because His disciples had picked some grain on the Sabbath. The disciples had picked the grain because they had nothing else to eat. But this did not figure into the Pharisees’ way of thinking. Jesus responds with examples that show that mercy is more important than the legal question they have raised. Anyway, Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath. I think you can see the general drift of what is going on. The Pharisees kept niggling with Jesus over points of tradition or points of law, and Jesus told them they were wrong.
Luke next recounts how, on another Sabbath, the Pharisees again tried to accuse Jesus, this time for healing on the Sabbath. But Jesus once again rebuts them by saying that doing good is more important than their Sabbath restrictions.
Do you see how all of these verses, going all the way back into Luke 5, are related? They all deal with Jesus correcting the Pharisees’ worldview. They saw things one way; Jesus saw things another way.
Notice what comes next in Luke 6. Jesus calls His disciples and then delivers what has been called the Sermon on the Plain. This is either Luke’s account of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, or it is a different sermon covering many of the same points as the Sermon on the Mount. Personally, I think it is the Sermon on the Mount. What I think happened is that when Jesus came down into the plain with His disciples and saw the multitudes, He went up the mountain. If you read Matthew 5:1 right after Luke 6:19, it makes perfect sense. The Gospels often are additive in this way. What one writer has left out, another has included. Just put them together. Anyway, what is really important to realize is that this sermon, and the longer version found in Matthew, is the most important sermon in the entire Bible.
Copyright © 2005-2011 Peter Ditzel