Jesus is using rich metaphors, but very mixed metaphors when talking about the value of what is old and what is new in life.
Jesus speaks of life being like new wine, needing to be saved in new wineskin. Jesus came to do a new thing, to make all things new, to give us a new heart, and a new hope. Jesus speaks continually about what is new: “You have heard it said… but I say.” And what he says is so new it’s called “news,” good news! The life transformation he promises us is so startlingly new, it’s so radical, so fresh, it’s like… being born again.[i] It’s spanking new. You wake up. It’s your new birthday. Every day. Fresh as the dawn.
But Jesus switches metaphors, saying that we need both the new and the old. Old cloth needs to be patched when it is worn out or frayed. Jesus presumes we don’t simply toss out what is old. We keep it, and mend it, and continue to use it. Jesus is speaking symbolically about claiming our past, being on good speaking terms with our own past, with our heritage, our formation, our tradition.
In the wear and tear of life, there will inevitably be frays or holes of need. The fabric of our life will feel torn when someone dies, or when a relationship ends, or when we feel disappointed or hurt, or when we don’t get what we wanted, or imagined, or feel we deserve. When some new tear or hole appears in the fabric of life, remember your past, draw on your past, how you’ve been provided for, sustained, protected, healed, empowered up until now.
Sooner or later, something is going to get ripped in our soul. It happens. When it happens, remembering and reclaiming our past will stitch help into the present, and hope for the future. In the wear and tear of your life, when a fray or hole of need appears, remember the provision in your past. The patch comes from the past, from the old, well-worn cloth of our past.
Jesus speaks about what is old and what is new for our sake. We live inside of time, the creature of time: the past, and present, and the future. For Jesus, all time is now. Jesus is present, really present, in what we call past, and present, and future… all the time. Always present. Embracing the whole of our lives – what for us is old, what is new, what is now – is a way for us to know Jesus as Jesus knows us: really present to us all the time, an anchor in our past, a dawn in our future, always with us now.
[i] John 3:3.
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