Luke 4-6…The parable of the wine and wineskins
In this picture, Jesus humorously points out that no one puts new wine into old wineskins. There were numerous types of vessels that carried wine, but the most common were made from the skin of sheep or goats. After the animals were slaughtered, the hides were cleaned, and sewn closed where the legs had been. The spout of the wineskin was where the neck used to be. Newly pressed wine, or grape juice and other ingredients needed to make wine, was poured into the fresh wineskin through the neck, and when it was full, the neck was tied shut to make the skin airtight. Over time, the juice would ferment. The fermentation process would produce gas. And this gas would cause the goatskin to expand. A wineskin could be used several times before it lost its elasticity. Eventually, however, the skin would lose its ability to flex, and would no longer be suitable for making wine. If someone tried to use a wineskin that had lost its elasticity for making more wine, the fermentation process would cause the old wineskin to stretch beyond its limit, and the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. Both would be destroyed, and so Jesus retains a touch of irony in this parable. Nobody would be foolish enough to put new wine into old wineskins.
Ultimately, Jesus is answering questions about what kind of teacher He is, and what kind of disciples He is making, and ultimately, why He is doing things the way He is. The picture of new wineskins answers the question about why Jesus calls sinners and tax-collectors like Levi to be His disciples. And finally, the picture of new wine answers the question about why Jesus teaches what He does. These three questions and answers are brought out more clearly in Mark 2:1-22. And what is the ultimate answer to all these questions? The Kingdom has arrived and the exile is over.
In a way, therefore, the final statement of Jesus in Luke 5:39 is a veiled invitation to the Pharisees and the followers of John to try the new wine. He is not denouncing them or their ways, but a full cup of His wine has been placed on the table, and they are invited to taste it. Though they may not like it at first, the invitation is there. Jesus has brought in the Kingdom of God, and the invitation to participate is open to all. Jesus interprets his behaviors, which are questionable and innovative to some onlookers, as manifestations of God’s ancient purposes coming to fruition.