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The Value of Old and New

by Liv Larson Andrews

Read Luke 5:33–39.

We are anxious about aging. Flip through any women’s magazine and you’ll find glossy promises of age prevention. Miracle serums offer “healing” of skin that is old and grooved, erasing the dreaded signs of age. New, young-looking skin is the goal of these products. Immense profit is the goal of the product-makers. The more we feel ashamed of our age and its signs on our bodies, the more we buy expensive “miracle” products.

What a different message we find when we flip through the pages of our holy book. In Luke 5, a conversation about age and skin comes up in a parable. Jesus is questioned on the behavior of his disciples. They don’t act like other disciples who continually fast and pray. Jesus responds with talk about a wedding feast, new and old clothes, and new and old wine. Jesus ends his teaching with the line, “The old is good.”

Old is good.

Like most of the parables of Jesus, this illustration about wedding guests, wineskins, and fabric can be tricky. It seems from a quick read-through that new matters most. Don’t ruin a new garment by cutting out a piece of it to sew onto an old garment. And don’t put new wine into old skins because the wine will be lost when the old skins burst. Losing all that wine and putting a hole in a new blouse would be a waste.

On a closer read, we notice that Jesus also mentions the destruction of the old wineskins as a regrettable loss: “the wine will be spilled and the skins destroyed.” Those old skins would have been flavored with tannins from all the other vintages they had held over the years. Like a seasoned cast-iron skillet that increases flavor with use, old wineskins are valuable. You can’t store the well-aged wine anywhere else.

The problem Jesus addresses in this parable is not age, but use. Or fit. Improper use of the wineskins means both the new wine and the old skins are wasted. What Jesus’ critics think is right behavior for his disciples—fasting and praying—would be a waste of precious hours that Jesus spends with them. Fasting doesn’t fit with the joyous presence of Messiah. Time will come for fasting, Jesus says. But for now the bridegroom, the Messiah, is here. Fasting at a wedding, like old cloth sewn to new, just doesn’t match the occasion.

The Rev. Liv Larson Andrews lives with her spouse and young son in Spokane, Wash. She is the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in the West Central neighborhood and enjoys hosting friends and strangers at the table.

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