DEAR FATHER PAUL: For quite some time I have been puzzled by the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:16-17.
Can you shed some light on this passage? I know that Jesus is teaching an important lesson, but what do “old garments and old wineskins” have to do with anything in 2020? Thank you. Will
DEAR WILL: Thank you for your question.
You are right. In the Matthew 9:16-17 passage, Jesus is indeed teaching an important lesson, both for his hearers 2,000 years ago, but also for those of us living today, especially as we start a new year and a new decade.
Jesus often used one of the many figures of speech found in the English language in his teachings. He also very often used stories called “parables.” The particular figure of speech Jesus uses in Matthew 9 is called a “metaphor.” He used figures of speech and parables to simplify spiritual truths so that these truths could be easily understood by common folks as well as educated folks.
A metaphor, for example, is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two things that, while they aren’t exactly alike, do have at least one important thing in common but also have at least one important difference. The difference plus the sameness help to clarify the point that is being made. Example: “Her tears were like a river flowing down her cheeks”. Her tears, of course, were not a “real” river. But the metaphor tells us that she was crying a lot.
Here is Matthew 9:16-17. Jesus had just called Matthew to become his disciple. Later that day, Jesus is having dinner at Matthew’s house, and some skeptics speak up. (New International Version) … Jesus answers: “No one sews a patch of un-shrunk (new) cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wineskins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
The people at the dinner probably didn’t know much about theology, but they did know about patched garments and drinking wine out of wineskins.
So to answer your question then, Will, I think Jesus is talking here about his listener’s need for a “NEW LIFE” lived in love for, and in service to God, as opposed to their “OLD LIFE” of love for and service to SELF.
Thus, I believe Jesus was asking each of his listeners at that dinner long ago, but also each of us today, me included, how do you intend to live out 2020, and for that matter, the rest of your life?
Will it be the same “old” way you lived 2019? Will you cling to the “Old Garments” and the “Old Wineskins” that have shaped our life up to this point? Or will your life become a “new cloth” and “a new wineskin” that is instead useful to God, and that glorifies and pleases him?
This is important! I do not believe that Jesus was simply talking about “turning over a new leaf,” making New Year’s resolutions, or swearing off some old habits. No, I believe he was talking about us making a total, complete and revolutionary change in our lives by living every hour and every day from today on demonstrating both our love for God and for all God’s creation. This vital message from Jesus applies to both non-believers as well as to those of us who call ourselves “Christians.”
Pastors meet people almost every day who say, “God has not poured out his blessings on me! Why?”
Listen, I am definitely not God. But I think it is entirely likely that God DOES indeed wish to bless such people, and that he even has a detailed plan on just how to do it, but because of their own stubborn rebellion and refusal to “lay aside the old life (the old wineskins and old patches)” and instead “take up a new life in God,” he can’t and he won’t. That is not the “prosperity gospel.” It is just a simple godly truth.
2020 marks a new year, a new decade and the opportunity for new beginnings. I pray for each of my readers that 2020 will be a time of new and increased faith in God … (“new” cloth and “new” wineskins) and of both new love for and new obedience to him. Amen.
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[FATHER PAUL MASSEY is Canon to the Ordinary (the Bishop) of the Diocese of the Mid-South of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and is assigned to Christ The King Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia. He is a Chaplain to the Peachtree City, Georgia Police Department. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]