Sixth Thursday of Lent

Isaiah 65:8–16, Luke 5:33–39

In Old Testament and Jesus’ time, wine was considered a sign of God’s blessing.* In this Isaiah speech, the new wine will be the remnant that faithfully returns to God, and then to the Promised Land. The interesting play on this means that because of the old wine (Israel) that the vines (the promise to Abraham) yielded, they should be destroyed. However, “one says” that there is hope in the new fruit. This new potential is followed by a reclaimed swamp (Sharon) for pasture, and “cursed”/barren land (Valley of Achor) as a place of rest.

Isaiah’s speech continues down a course of punishment for those who don’t (and/or continue to not) follow God. At the same time there is a promise of blessing for those who will follow God. The new wine indeed came and people returned to the Promised Land.

Yet, the new wine can become old, and it did. It wasn’t aging well, according to Jesus. The modern process of winemaking is both art and science. Vintners are pretty confident with their wines that they will get better with age. There are wines that don’t get better with age, too. In older days, however, the precision wasn’t there, especially as part of the fermenting process. BAD wine and vinegar were common results. Was Jesus saying that the wine (the Pharisees and scribes, scions of the Jewish Law and religions) was bad? Maybe, but it is more likely that Jesus was saying that the aging process was no longer effective (just like real wine), and it was time for something new.

This parable is often used to “prove” that Christianity was the new replacement for Judaism. It is used regularly to encourage churches to not hold too tightly to the old ways. Which is valid. However, the beauty of this version of the parable (see Matthew 9:14-17 for the other version) is the added line about the old wine. One must remember that the old wine was once new, too. The old wine has value.

If Jesus is the vine (or root), and we are the branches (John 15:1-8), we should all be producing new fruit, which makes new wine. Let us not keep focusing on old wine already made.

1) When you look at “the church” (all the claimants to Christianity), where do you see “new wine” and where do you see “old wine”?

2) Your “old wine” used to be the “new wine”, even if you think you’re young, that’s so. Why is important to see the value in old and new?

3) The wine and wineskins age together, how does that mirror our growth in faith and grace?

*As a denomination in the temperance (abstaining from alcohol) camp, the Church of the Nazarene (and other similar denominations) often struggle to call wine a sign of God’s blessing. By God’s grace, Thomas Welch invented (or perfected) the process by which grape juice fermentation would cease, and no longer produce an alcoholic beverage. This did allow temperance folks to have a “fruit of the vine” that met the theological needs of Communion and the theological/pastoral needs of ministering to those affected by alcohol or had another philosophical opposition to alcoholic beverages.