Jesus’ parables about cloth and wineskins can seem insignificant and out of place without the proper context. We’re going to look at this parable and why it was so important to the teachings of Jesus and why the people then, and us now, need to hear it.
The context to this parable is everything. When we look at this parable in matthew’s context, for example, the meaning can become much more clear. Here is the parable from Matthew’s perspective in Matthew 9:14-17,
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.””
We are introduced to this scene by John’s disciples coming to ask Jesus a question. They are wondering why Jesus’ disciples do not fast but they and the Pharisees do. Then Jesus gives them an answer about a bridegroom and guests and mourning. What Jesus is telling them is that he is still with his disciples, there is no need for them to fast. But, once he is gone, they will fast and mourn because he is no longer with them. Then Jesus goes into his parable about cloth and wineskins and it is such a crucial part to his ministry.
The parable is this. You cannot put new cloth on an old garment or you will tear the garment and it will be worse than the hole you started with. Likewise, you cannot put new wine in an old wineskin or the skin will burst and everything will be ruined. You must have a new wineskin to hold the new wine. Jesus is making a fundamental claim here about our mindset and his teaching in light of the conversation that just occured.
Jesus is getting at the heart of much of our problems as humans and that is our mindset. We have a certain way we think, act, and speak depending on culture, religion, ethnicity, etc. Jesus is speaking about our mindset about God here. Jesus’ teachings and his ways were new and much different than the traditional way of thinking according to the law of Moses. Jesus is telling John’s disciples that they have to have a different mindset to accept his teachings. They can’t think the way they used to because it won’t make sense to them in their current mindset. It’s like trying to sew a new patch on an old garment or like trying to pour new wine into old wineskins, it just won’t work. Jesus’ ways are different from the old ways and therefore, a new way of thinking must take place.
With John’s disciples, Jesus wanted them to really rethink what fasting was all about and why they do it in the first place. He wanted them to have a different mindset to understand not only fasting but their entire lives as well. A change had to take place between thinking in terms of the law and thinking in terms of the gospel. What is it that Jesus wants us to change our mindset about? What is it that we need to rethink and change our mindset about to better understand Christ? The answer is probably different for everyone. Just like a garment and wineskin, we need to be refreshed and made new and the only way to do that is through Jesus Christ.