As our first parable, the story of the new cloth is closely linked to our second parable, that is the parable of the wine skins (Next weeks study!).
During our Lord’s teaching, the two parables were separated possibly by only an inhale of the Lord, but there are a few differences I would like to highlight in the next post, so we will only consider the new cloth parable with this post.
Let’s take a look at
The Parable of the New Cloth
16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.
As mentioned in our introduction, we have a number of questions that will provide guidance in understanding each of these parables. Let’s review and dig into this parable.
Questions to Consider
Who were the Audience?
As we read through the immediate context, we see that previous to the parable being given, Jesus was calling (and eating) with Levi the publican, the tax collector that eventually became the apostle Matthew. Therefore, the audience most likely were those who were eating with Levi., and the ones providing the questions.
When did the Lord give this parable?
As this is the first parable it goes without saying it was relatively early in the career of Jesus. Specifically, it seems to be given right after Jesus sat down with sinners and publicans, and the Pharisees started questioning His eating habits. During the supper at Levi’s house, the Pharisees started finding fault. (Did they ever stop finding fault?)
11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
A short time later, (it appears) John’s disciples come to the Master with further questions. It is interesting that these disciples group themselves in with the Pharisees in their eating habits, but I am getting ahead of myself!
Where did the Lord teach this parable?
This parable was likely spoken in Capernaum, Matthews home town.
Why did the Lord give this message?
We must remember who spoke these words. Jesus is not simply a good teacher or “nice guy”. He is, in this instance, One preaching the Kingdom of God to a nation that is committed to the pharisaical understanding of the Old Testament.
The Pharisees considered fasting as a sign of piety, and would express their “godliness” openly. Fasting, per the Old Testament, as I read it, seems to be linked with repentance and contrition.
John’s disciples may be following this spirit of fasting, but during the time the Messiah is on earth, even that right spirit of contrition over sin is to be left behind. Jesus Himself says
…Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?
What was the message for the original audience?
As mentioned earlier, we must remember Who is giving this teaching out. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is constantly informing the nation of Israel (and it’s leaders) that the Messiah has arrived, the Kingdom is now.
In this instance Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom. What would the hearers understand when they heard this?
Throughout the Old Testament, God is spoken of as the husband of Israel. Consider one of many verses that speak to this truth.
5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
A husband to one wife. So how could Jesus say He is the bridegroom? This created a conflict in my mind for many years, until I read a couple of verses that shook my thinking.
1 Thus says the LORD: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
Isaiah is speaking to the people of Israel, and telling them the reason their mother (The nation of Israel) was sent away into captivity. The transgressions of the nation caused the divorce decree to be given. Israel was no longer the wife of Jehovah.
Jeremiah speaks of the Judah playing the whore, even though the northern nation of Israel was sent away with a decree of divorce.
8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.
This is incredible. Not only for my understanding of divorce within the Christian community, but more so, for the impact of Jesus statement.
A new wedding, a new covenant with God was being offered to those who would hear it, who would accept it, who would follow.
The days of repentance and sorrow were to be over with while the Bridegroom was on earth. These are days of celebration, of a new opportunity to relate to and love God. No sorrow. This brief time of Jesus sojourn on earth was to be of the greatest celebration!
And Jesus speaks the parable of the new cloth.
It is detrimental to both the old garment and the new cloth to mend the old garment with new cloth. Wash that garment a few times and the new patch with shrink, and the old garment will not be flexible enough to adjust. The new cloth will be wasted and the old garment will be further destroyed. (Nowadays, with pre-shrunk materials, patching has some limited success, but the point of the parable is mismatched covenants, and not new technology!)
Flexibility for the New Covenant, the New Cloth.
Can the old garment of the religious order in Israel accept the new? This is a huge challenge to the people of Israel, and an insurmountable problem to some of the leadership.
The patch could not fix the garment! The garment was not flexible enough. Will the people (and the leadership) of Israel abandon the old garment or cling to the new? Or will they try to combine both, and make the situation worse?
We know the end of the story.
What is the message for us today?
This is the difficult part of the post, where I make my estimation of this parables application.
Old Covenant in the New Covenant
Christians have to grapple with the relationship of the Old Testament (OT) religious order with the New Covenant (NC) we are living under. Over the centuries, the church has wavered between completely accepting the OT norms into our NC life, and rebelling from the OT order of things.
I would suggest an example of accepting the OT in the NC is the confusion of every believer being a priest (check out 1 Peter 2:5,9) and the designation of a church clergy.
Where did the concept of church clergy come from? I would suggest that this concept of an order of people elevated to an office above the common believer smacks of the OT order.
Does God use this system or order in the church? Of course. He is God and can use all things to His glory.
But the question remains for the reader to consider. Is this an example of the Old Testament order of things creeping into the New Covenant life?
Can you think of another instance where the Old Testament (garment) is being repaired with the New Cloth?
Personally, I need to be flexible. I need to cling to the truth of the gospel, and yet be flexible in the application of the truth of the Word. This is a daily challenge since I am a “dyed in the wool” religious fella. (Aren’t we all?)
Is there something in my life that is not being ruled by the love of God, but simply by a tradition or religious history.
An example might be such.
My early life in Christianity taught me many things, and I am thankful for the men and women who took the time to show me the Scriptures. One Scripture that was given to me by a dear brother was on the topic of divorce in the Christian community.
16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD….
This topic comes up since we breached it above, but early on, I made a clear stand on the topic of divorce. It seemed so obvious! God does not allow divorce in the Christian community!
Take a look at the verse above. It seemed so obvious, and I felt I was taking the moral high ground which would make God proud of me – how foolish now that I said it out loud!
God hates divorce – this hasn’t changed. Does God allow for divorce? Yes, under certain conditions, the believer is allowed to consider divorce. We can consider these conditions (I think there are two conditions) in a later post since this one may be getting a bit “long in the tooth”.
Suffice it to say, I had to repent (be flexible) of my understanding, my high moral position, in order to comply with the New Covenant teaching on this subject.
Where are you needing to be flexible (like new cloth) in relation to the Master’s will? I can promise you that if you are in the same struggle I am, that is as a believer, you are struggling with something even today.
Don’t be such an old garment!
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