Jesus once warned against trying to patch an old garment with new cloth or put new wine into old wineskins. In the case of the garment, the new unshrunk piece of cloth will tear away from the rest when the clothing is first washed. And in the case of the wineskins, the new wine will be too acidic for the old skins and they will burst. New wine and new skins need to grow old together.
I used to wonder about exactly what this meant. I’d heard it taught as being related to new methods of sharing the Gospel and pretty much left it at that. Recently I found something new. I found out that Jesus told this story right after being criticized for hanging around tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house.
When the religious leaders (Pharisees) questioned Jesus as to his choice of friends, he promptly replied, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) Which translated meant, I didn’t come for you; I came for them. And shortly after that is when Jesus is suddenly discussing garment repair and proper wine storage.
Here’s what I think. I think these metaphors were meant for the Pharisees. They were meant to announce to them that God was now going to usher in a new thing entirely.
Jesus did not come just to fix religion. He did not come to patch up the Old Covenant. Nor did He come to pour new life into it. He came to do something entirely new. He came to topple an old system and establish something new. And in order to “get it” you can’t come in through the existing door. The standard framework of thinking about God and religion will forever prevent us from being able to understand and partake in what Jesus came to establish. Therefore, Jesus is pleased to start with people who have no preconceptions of God and how to please Him; they just know they’re messed up. That’s all Jesus wants. He doesn’t want the religious sacrifices of “good” people. He wants the entire lives of people who know they are sinners and failures so he can begin something entirely new with them — new clothes… new wine… new skins… new person.
Now all this should come as terribly good news to anyone who knows he or she is not a good person, as well as someone who doesn’t want to have anything to do with religion. That’s precisely the point. Jesus didn’t come for good people; He came for sinners. Jesus has established a new thing entirely. It’s not about religion; it’s about a radical new way to know God and be changed.