Matthew 9:9-17 (CEB): As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?”
Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.
“No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, people pour new wine into new wineskins so that both are kept safe.”
I’ve always wondered about the last paragraph of this passage. I never really got what Jesus meant by the cloth and wineskin. But keeping it in context of the rest of this passage, we can see what he was meaning. Think of it this way: There’s an ‘old way’ of doing something. And, sometimes that ‘old way’ is broken. Some think that the best thing to do is to try to repair what’s broken. However, sometimes, the only way forward is to chunk the ‘old way’ all together to make room for the ‘new way’. Other times, the ‘new way’ grows out of the ‘old way’. It builds itself on what’s good from the ‘old way’ but moves in new directions that the ‘old way’ never even thought possible. This is what I think Jesus is meaning by his statements about the cloth and wineskins.
The ‘old way’ of first century Judaism was not wrong, per say, but it could only go so far. It couldn’t go the rest of the journey. The religious opposition of Jesus’ day were content and thought that Judaism as they knew it was all that was needed. Anything else was looked at with suspicion. ‘This is the way we have done it for years,’ they might say, ‘and that’s all we need.’
Also, some weren’t so naive to believe that they were pure in their teaching and understanding. Jesus’ confrontation with them on several occasions reveal just this view (e.g., Matthew 15.1-9 CEB).
We can see that application today (and throughout history, actually). Too many people hold to their tradition instead of seeing that God is moving in new directions. The same response of ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ comes rushing in. Those who are seeking God in new ways of expression and doctrine are looked at with suspicion while others are seen as ‘unorthodox’ or even ‘heretics’.
And yet, both Jesus and the early church were breaking new ground in their understanding of God and God’s purposes in the world. While some sought the destructing of the ‘The Way’ (see Acts 9.1-2 CEB; 19.9 CEB; etc.), others saw that it was God’s doing (Acts 5.27-42 CEB, note vv. 34-39). Similarly today, there are new movements going on in The Way and some have stubbornly held on to their tradition. Now, I’m not saying that we should not ‘test the spirits to see if they are from God’ (1John 4.1 CEB). Far from it. But just because something is different, or, more importantly, just because something questions our traditional views and understandings, doesn’t mean that it’s not from God. It may well be that God is moving in a new direction. And, if the ‘old way’ no longer works, then the ‘new way’ may rise out of it’s ashes. Or, to use Jesus’ images, the new cloth may tear away from the old garment - the old wineskin may burst from the new wine being pored into it.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC