Old coat and the new cloth: the twain shall not go together

Jesus' mention that no one will patch up an old coat with a piece of new cloth refers to the spiritual impropriety between the two Laws viz. the Mosaic Law and the Messianic Law. It means the old coat and the new cloth, the twain shall not go together.

Old coat and the new cloth: the twain shall not go together

By K. L. Joseph

Once the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked a question about fasting. They asked Jesus, why is it that we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples don’t fast at all? (Matt.9,14-17). There was no dispute ensued between the followers of John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples prompting them to ask this question.  But being hostile to the Jesus’ believers, the followers of John were also like the Pharisees trying to find fault with them and to cause bewilderment to their Master Jesus.

To the above question of John the Baptist, Jesus did not give a direct answer. However, Jesus said to them obliquely: “Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to be sad as long as the bridegroom is with them. Of course not! But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Then he said allegorically: “No one patches up an old coat with a piece of new cloth, for the new patch will shrink and make an even bigger hole in the coat. Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, for the skins will burst, the wine will pour out, and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins, and both will keep in good condition”. (Matt. 9. 15-17).  This answer by Jesus implicitly exposed the feigned moral or spiritual mind-set of both the followers of John and the Pharisees on the question of fasting. It’s meaning so wider in application   traverses back to the regulations of the old worship under the Mosaic Law and also the new worship under the Messianic Law.

Here, the wine skins referred to are the ancient containers, mainly made of goat skin, for carrying water by the people. Used wine skins are not ideal to store new wine, for the new wine will be prone to start active fermentation releasing the bubbles and gasses. With the result, the gaseous pressure built up in the used wine skins   may rise up and tear it at the seams making the wine burst out. The words “used wine skins” refer to the Mosaic Law, which the Lord established after the Israelites were freed from the Egyptian slavery which you will find in the Book of Leviticus. Daily sacrifices of bulls and goats and use of its blood were then considered as a way to atone for the sins. In fact, this was a temporary one pending an everlasting covenant that was in the   waiting to be established by the Lord.

The new wine represents the New Everlasting Covenant, the proper order established by God through the sacrificial death of his son Jesus on the Cross.   The blood of bulls and goats was replaced with the body and blood of Jesus that he sacrificed and poured out for the forgiveness of sins of the world. God thus made the old covenant the Mosaic Law obsolete with the New Covenant. As a result, the animal’s sacrifice along with its blood ceased to exist for the worship of the Lord. 

By referring to the wedding party and the time of the bridegroom being taken away from his disciples making them fast, Jesus signified his impending sacrificial death on the Cross and his departure from the world and his disciples as he told them: “In a little while you will not see me anymore and then a little while later you will see me” (John 16.16). It is because ‘I am going to my father’ (John16.17). “I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep” (John16.20).

His mention that no one will patch up an old coat with a piece of new cloth refers to the spiritual impropriety between the two Laws viz. the Mosaic Law and the Messianic Law. Because anything that was rendered old and worn out under Mosaic Law will remain discarded and cannot be amalgamated with the Messianic Law. It means the old coat and the new cloth, the twain shall not go together.

Fasting and also Sabbath are connected with the worship of the Lord. Beginning of fasting and Sabbath can be traced back to the Book of Leviticus and the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Fasting was first commanded by the Lord to be observed by the people of Israel once a year to atone for their sins (Lev.16.29-31). As per regulations given on atonement, Lord commanded that on the tenth day of the seventh month the Israelites and the foreigners living among them must fast and must not do any work. That day is to be a very holy day, one on which they fast and do no work at all. These regulations are to be observed for all time to come.

Sabbath even according to its dictionary meaning denotes the seventh day of the week viz. a day of rest appointed for Israelites. While giving the Ten Commandments   to Moses the Lord said: Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me.  On that day no one is to work – neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the sea, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy (Exodus 20. 8-11).

When God brought in the new order or the New Covenant and established it for all the time to come, the Mosaic Law and the regulations of the worship for the Israelites became obsolete. Accordingly, the Sabbath also lost its significance. This is evident from Matthew 12. 1-8. Once the Pharisees complained to Jesus about violation of the Sabbath Law by his disciples when they saw them pick the ears of corn and eat the grain on a sabbath day.  The Pharisees objected to the conduct of Jesus’ disciples for violating the Sabbath law by eating the grains. Jesus dismissed their argument.  He brought to their notice an earlier incident, in which David and his men went into the house of God when they were hungry and ate the bread meant for the priests to eat. So, to the complaint of the Pharisees Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”. Jesus further said: “I tell you that there is something here greater than the temple. The scripture says ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices. If you really knew what this means, you would not condemn people who are not guilty, for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

On another occasion when Jesus went into the   synagogue on a Sabbath day he saw a man there whose right hand was paralysed. The Scribes and the Pharisees   present there were looking for a chance to accuse Jesus of doing wrong.  Jesus knowing their thoughts, said to them before healing the man, “I ask you what does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save a man’s life or destroy it?” Then he healed the man of his paralysis (Luke 6.6-11).

In conclusion, if a person does not abandon the wrong ways of life staying away from sins and wickedness, his fasting will mean only an external show of a fake devotion. It is also the case with Sabbath. Observing Sabbath without mercy viz. refusing to heal the sick and help the poor and the needy in their pains and distress under the alibi of Sabbath can’t serve any intended purpose. The miracles performed by Jesus like the healing of the sick on the Sabbath Day out of compassion will always remain a glowing reminder in this regard.

It will be relevant to mention below about the simulating nature of the Pharisees and of John’s followers with reference to the question brought up before Jesus: “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not your disciples?” (Matthew 9.14).

The Pharisees were strict in obeying the Mosaic Law and also the Regulations which were added to it from time to time. There also existed at that time another Jewish Religious Party called ‘Sadducees’. The problem with the Pharisees is that they considered themselves as self-righteous people. Jesus called these people Hypocrites, considering their simulating nature.

The followers of John the Baptist, belonged to the ancient Jewish Sect, called Mandaean Community (Gnostic Sect), who originated from Iran and Iraq. They revered John the Baptist who lived in the 1st Century AD and was a Jewish itinerant to the core. They did not believe in Jesus. John engaged in the mission of preaching the people of the good news of God by travelling extensively from place to place. From the conduct of the followers of John the Baptist who questioned   about fasting of Jesus’ followers, it appears that they suffered from a spiritual vacuum to know the identity of John and Jesus. Also, the followers of John did not seem to realise that John was chosen by the Lord to be only the forerunner to go ahead of his son Jesus to prepare the way for him to enable him travel and preach the good news about the Kingdom of heaven.

John’s role was only limited to a preacher and forerunner of Jesus. So, in theological sense, how can the followers of John question Jesus the son of the living God, whom their master John himself testified and revered as the mighty one especially in the context of the baptism in the Jordan. Under the Messianic Law or the New Covenant, baptism is the most important of the seven   Sacraments. When God’s people are baptised into union with Christ, it spiritually meant that they were baptised into union with his death. Through baptism one gets buried with Christ and becomes eligible for being raised from death, as Christ got raised. So, what the New Covenant established by the Lord Jesus says about baptism is not guaranteed in the Mosaic Law which was, therefore, made obsolete by the Lord. In relation to the followers of John the Baptist and of the   simulating mind-set of the Pharisees, Jesus’ answer on fasting given in a parabolic way is remarkable: “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matthew 9. 15).

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