The disciples of John came to [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”15And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, 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
Jesus is using “mixed metaphors” about patching used cloth with old cloth, and about protecting fresh wine in a new wineskin. Very different metaphors.
We can presume that cloth needs to be patched because it is old and well worn or worn out. Jesus presumes we don’t simply toss out what is old. We keep it and patch it and continue to use it. Jesus is speaking symbolically about claiming or reclaiming our past, about our being on good speaking terms with our own past. Jesus promises to be with us always, even to the end, in the same way that Jesus has been with us from the beginning, even as we were being formed in our mother’s womb, to use the language of the psalms.[i]
This is to remember our past – drawing on our past – how we’ve been provided for, sustained, protected, healed – when some new hole of need appears in our life. Which will happen. Remembering and reclaiming our past will help us claim hope and help for the present and the future, when we are – as it were – torn up by some new hole of need in our life. The patch for the new hole is to be found in our past. The patch comes from old cloth.
Then Jesus switches the metaphor when he speaks of new wine to be saved and savored from a new wineskin. Jesus came to do a new thing, to make all things new, to give us a new heart. What he speaks about continually is the new – his news – and it’s good news.[ii] Jesus has this one liner, “You have heard it said… but I say.” The transformation he promises for us is so startlingly new, it’s so radical, so fresh, it’s like being born again. Spanking new. And so Jesus uses this metaphor of new wine to be stored and savored from a new wineskin.
Jesus is speaking metaphorically both about the old and the new. Several chapters following today’s gospel lesson Jesus speaks, again metaphorically, about “every scribe… is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”[iii] We need both, both the old and the new to be fully alive.
Where are you in touch with need? Where is there a hole in your life? Maybe there’s a hole in your heart? Something may be torn or worn, depleted or exhausted. The present need can be sutured by hope drawn from your past. How is it you have found strength and provision in the past, given the seemingly-impossible needs you have faced. Draw from your past to claim hope for the present and future. Remember your past; reclaim your past to patch the hole of need in the present.
Simultaneously, be open for what is new, for what God is wanting to birth in your life. You may need to detach from something of your past. Something new wants to happen, and that new requires space. You may have a sense of it. You may even be able to identify with the Blessed Virgin Mary who, on hearing of this new thing God had for her to bear and give birth to was first afraid, and then she was perplexed – “How can this be?” – and then she was ready… or then she was readied. God made her ready for this new thing.
And so with you. What is old and what is new. To be fully alive you need both the old and the new. And God is in both. I don’t think this is something we can work out on our own. It is God who is working this out in our lives and in the most amazing ways. Surrender to what wants to happen. What wants to happen? What does God want to happen in your life? The invitation here is to seek the grace we witness in the Blessed Virgin Mary who ultimately found the clarity and courage to pray, “Be it unto me according to your word.”[iv]
[i] Psalm 139:13-15.
[ii] See Matthew 4:23; 9:31; 9:35; 10:7; 11:5; 24:14; 26:13.
[iii] Matthew 13:52.
[iv] Luke 1:38.
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