Parables of Jesus for the Modern Pilgrim
The old and new cloth and wineskins. Jesus talks about getting rid of the old when the new is here. What’s that all about?
Let’s get some context.
These parables appear in three of the four Gospels. Jesus is confronted by the disciples of John the Baptist. This, I believe, is a sincere question. Unlike the Pharisees who come to Jesus with questions, intent on trapping Jesus, these disciples are genuinely seeking.
They inquire, why aren’t your disciples fasting like we are? In other words, why aren’t your guys keeping the religious customs that we spend so much time on? Jesus gives them the answer they may not expect but deeply need. They don’t know the fate of their rabbi John, but Jesus does. Soon, these disciples will be looking for a new master. Their old will be gone, and they will need to embrace the new.
Now let’s look at Jesus’ method.
When Jesus speaks spiritual truths, he always used parables. Parables are stories that take concrete concepts and apply them to abstract ideas. It is the best form of teaching. We learn by going from what we know, to what we don’t yet know. Jesus also taps into the profound need for people to enter into the story.
We see that need even today. We may enjoy a good book, but we love a good movie. Look at the adventure movie industry. People love to sit and listen to stories. It’s the way God made us. So let’s look at these twin parables.
Fasting while the Bridegroom is Here
Jesus begins his answer by giving them an illustration of wedding customs. Is it right for the wedding guests to mourn while the bridegroom is with them? No one would do that. Jesus is foreshadowing a couple of things. First, John the Baptist is about to be killed. His disciples will have time to mourn when their rabbi is gone. Also, Jesus is hinting at a time when He will also be killed. His disciples will mourn then…but only for a few days. 😉
Then Jesus turns their attention to the lesson. He gives them what they need to know, not only what they asked for.
The New Cloth and the Old Garment
What we know: no one uses a new piece of cloth to repair an old garment. The new cloth will shrink, and the hole will become worse. The garment will be ruined.
What we are being taught: God is doing a new work. If you try to apply the new work of God into the system of the old Mosaic law, the two will not become one. The old will be ruined.
The New Wine in the Old Wineskin
What we know: New wine cannot be put into an old skin. The old skin has already expanded and is now brittle. The new wine will not be contained. It is expanding. The old skin will burst under the pressure.
What we are being taught: Wine, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, will be poured out. It is still expanding. The old religious system has done its work and now has become unable to change with the new.
The Lesson for the Disciples
The Kingdom of God is dynamic. Yes, there was a 400 year period of silence but that time is over. God is on the move. Jesus is here to bring in the new covenant. The old system that served for thousands of years has now come to a close. The old system is represented by the old garment and wineskin. The new cloth and the new wine represent the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the new work of Grace.
Notice that there is a hole in the cloth and the old wineskin is empty. When the old has served its purpose, a gap opens. Nothing in life is truly stagnant. Change is constant. Progress to God’s ultimate purpose is always being made.
The Lesson for Modern Pilgrims
What are the characteristics of the New? Changing, dynamic, expanding, shrinking. God’s new work always needs space to change and grow.
What are the characteristics of the Old? Stagnant, resistant to change, worn, dry, brittle. The old ways can no longer adapt to the movements of the new. The old way can’t contain the new. It bursts from the pressure.
What new move of the Spirit is God bringing into my life? How am I receiving it? Is the old ripping away and bursting?
When we try to fit the new work into the old system, they are both destined to be ruined. Don’t get the idea that old is bad and the new is good. Not at all. The old is merely complete. Its work is done. The goodness, usefulness, and life are already consumed.
Lesson: Don’t mix the old and the new. They aren’t compatible. God’s new work in your life needs a new container. That might be a mind shift, a new way of looking at things.
Ask the Holy Spirit to supply the new container and fill it to overflowing with the ever-expanding Kingdom of God! Don’t mourn the loss of the old. Receive the new with joy.