14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast,[a] but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 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. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17
Another day of small group another night where my thoughts came together light years after the conversation had moved forward. Oh well, at least with writing I can try and be coherent afterwards.
I think this passage, when reflecting upon the law, provides some interesting context. The disciples of John and the pharisees both were ardent followers of the Mosiac law to their own understanding. Rituals such as fasting and sacrifice were key to being right with God. It seems like the disciples of John were curious as to the “how’s” of righteousness when it came to Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus, responds with pictures and what a story they tell. To flip the order, let’s start with the wine skins. Notice the one similarity, wine. The wine was good. The law is good. In fact, Jesus told everyone he came to fulfill the law not to abolish it, however, he also knew we humans are incredibly slow and simplified the law down to two commands, love the lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself. Note he says “your God” the relationship comes before the law.
However, thanks to Jesus earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, the intimate grace and mercy of a relational God whose holiness was no longer locked away in the Holy of Holies but provided redemption to any who approached and repented, the forms of the old law no longer fit. Just like the new wine would bubble and burst the brittle forms of the old wineskin but deepen and mature in the new, the law no longer fully fit in the old forms of ritual and sacrifice but needed the space of Christ’s relational grace.
This throws us back to the garment analogy. While faith still flourishes with disciplines to help grow our relationship with God, sometimes the forced rigidity regarding grey areas and the mindless repetition of vacant religious practice done for the sake of doing or human tradition can cause wounded souls. When we try to force a patch of this ritualistic law on those in the church while our souls long for grace, redemption, and relationship the “tear[ing] away from the garment, and a worse tear is made” occurs not with a garment but with real people causing deep spiritual wounds. We don’t need to look far to find those who have been hurt by the church.