What happens when we do the wrong thing? (Matthew 9:14-17)

Jesus gives two illustrations to show the danger of continuing to do the wrong thing. He points out what happens if wrong material is used to mend a hole in an old garment and if new wine is put into old wineskins. Instead of sorting out the problem, the selected actions make the situation worse. 

What is Jesus referring to here when he says that something is old and something is new? I suspect he is saying that he has come to replace the old way of doing things with a new way. And he says that it is not possible for the old to be retained. The Pharisees believed that their religious behaviour earned them salvation. They had a religion of works rather than a religion of grace. They had mixed up the requirements given by Moses with their own ideas and formed a new religion. It looks as if the disciples of John had a similar outlook.

The disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees had failed to see that what was happening with the coming of Jesus was not a patching up of old ways that had gone wrong, but that another way of doing things should be followed. They wanted to do the Jewish method better by trying to be diligent about external religious rites whereas Jesus was teaching his disciples that something better was available. If they stayed with the old, they would miss out on the new, and we can see from the Book of Acts that this took place with both groups because the apostles had to correct them.

Religion without grace makes the person proud of what he does and leads him to depend on what he does rather than looking to God for grace. They look down on others, as seems to have been the case here with how they questioned the religious commitment of the disciples of Jesus. Because their fasting could not be seen, they were regarded as less zealous.

The disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees, in their zeal for returning to more devotion to their practices, were going in the wrong direction, away from the new way that was going to be introduced by Jesus. And he did not want the disciples of John to do that, which is why he told them these illustrations.

Those rituals connected to Judaism were the old wineskins and they could not be used as containers for the new wine. Whenever someone insisted on using those old wineskins, as some did over the issue of circumcision, all that happened was that the new society of Jesus lost its spiritual freedom and unity. Are we in danger of going back to the old wineskins of legalism and dependence on our religious activities? I would say that it is a question we should always be asking ourselves.

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