"And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, `The old is better.’" Luke 5:39 (NIV)
Why is old wine better? There are several reasons. One, age tends to mature wine as the chemical reaction involving alcohol and sugar provides a more balanced and smoother taste. Exactly how this happens, we leave to chemists. Besides, the final proof (no pun intended) we can trust wine connoisseurs to tell us. It is also said that oak barrels in which wine are stored, provide the distinctive taste to aged wine. Of course, other wine-makers will contest this point, especially those who use other kinds of container. Ultimately, the quality of the taste depends on the origin of the wine, whether it be grapes, coconut, rice or sugar cane.
My father used to make wine at home. I remember when he experimented with native fruits such as guava and duhat. He kept them in old rum bottles on elevated shelves in our living room. For as long as he could, he held on to them until some of his drinking relatives heard about them. One by one those bottles disappeared. (My older brother, Levi, has confessed that he secretly drank some of the wine.) I never found out how they tasted. As curious kids though, we had our first taste of tuba (coconut wine) when we raided the kitchen while our mother was away. Of course, we didn't really know if what we tasted was wine or vinegar, which came from spoiled tuba! (A case of new wine becoming new acid.)
Only recently did I really learn to drink a little red wine at socials. For so long, I had kept myself as sober as an aquarium fish not so much for my religious scruples as hating what alcohol did to me. You see, I got really drunk once and only once before. Some friends got me to try gin and to my consternation I remember talking incoherently and out of turn that I vowed I would never want to encounter again that person I was that night. I hated that person. My decision must have saved me from a lot of trouble, thank God.
It seems drinkers can be classified generally into two: Those who savor wine or liquor for what good they offer and those who simply drink. The first treat the drink with respect and with self-control. They know that they deal with something which can be a good friend or a bad enemy. These are the people who can confidently blow into those blood-alcohol measuring gadgets and confidently say they can still drive. For them, the good that wine offers is no different from the good that ordinary food offers since too much of either becomes unhealthful. Finally, this kind can tell the difference between real good and bad wine -- and it follows, real good and bad time.
The other kind of drinkers looks at drink as a means toward a selfish end. They only know one good kind of wine, the one with alcohol. And the good they think of only concerns their immediate satisfaction. They know and have known of so many people whose lives were wasted by drinking too much and yet they imbibe as if they were oblivious of such knowledge. They merely want to have a "good" time which is actually bad, if they thought about it hard enough. Aside from the wasted expense on something that abuses the health, they endanger themselves and others when they drive after drinking. We know how many accidents arise from drunken driving. This fact overtakes death from smoking in plain stupidity by a hundred miles for the obvious reason that such accidents could have been totally avoided.
So, what benefit does good old wine hold for us?
Jesus obviously knew the difference between good and bad wine. Why not? He made the best wine at
New wine definitely tastes flat when you have tasted old wine. In the same way, new habits don't attract us as much as our old habits. It takes many years for one who is used to listening to country and folk music to shift to jazz or reggae. Take it from someone who went through such an evolution and who often relapses into a folk diet like a hungry young pig. Those songs are so simple and innocent you appreciate the ritual of feeling like a child singing or listening to them. Jazz, on the other hand, makes you feel a bit mature and sophisticated. And a bit self-assured. So depending on one's mood, the music will follow suit. Although my knowledge of wine will fit the label of a wine bottle with enough space to spare, I would venture to say that this musical preference applies as well to our choice between old and new wine.
Yes, we can like both but we can only take them one at a time.
Definitely, price has a lot to do about people's drinking habits. Old wine is much more expensive. You get the same basic alcohol from both kinds, so cheaper wins for most people. In short, you get the same sort of "high". It goes also for our habits. Why should I change my ways when I am happy doing what I'm used to? Old wine tastes better! I've tried driving an automatic car but I still like the challenge of manual driving. I've tasted
The new takes away so much from our selves. Our experiences, our memories, our very being and future get disrupted when we venture into new horizons. We become disoriented. We become wary of new surroundings because they bring on new and different feelings. With new venues and avenues come new relationships and new directions. And that runs against our normal grain. Remember the time when you visited a different religious rite for the first time? You felt lost. You wondered if God was there at all. Same with new wine; it's not that familiar to our taste.
Yet new wine is the source of old wine. Sooner or later, as we grow old, we discover what really matters in life. We come to decide once and for all the real good in life and we stick to it till the end. What new thing we might welcome today into our life will eventually get old. What new attitude we might develop today will have become a habit sometime in the future. What we begin to become today will become what we will be tomorrow.
Old wine is better because it is definitely better in taste, quality and value. The Lord knows this for sure. And He was not merely talking of wine after all! He wants us to have the best life, too. And that is why we need to get in the new wine into our system - that is, His new way into our very being -- as early as we can so that in the years to come, we can savor the old wine that it will turn into. Then we can look back with joy and comfort for our good decision today.
(Photo above: A seagull takes a rest from foraging. Taken by my son Jon, in Vancouver, Canada.)