Luke 5:36-39 (NIV) He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'”
The Pharisees and teachers of the law had no idea of the scale of transformation in man’s relationship with God that Jesus’ arrival was causing. They believed that, at least as far as they were concerned, man’s relationship with God had never been better. They were meticulous about observing all aspects of God’s law, and believed that, in return, God was perfectly satisfied with them.
Of course, their relationship with God was all one-way. They obeyed what God had written in the law, and they simply assumed that He was pleased. They hoped that God would bless them as a result of their obedience, but they had no thought of a direct relationship with God where He could directly communicate with them, and directly express His satisfaction or displeasure.
But Jesus had come to inaugurate a whole new paradigm of God’s kingdom. In Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, these leader actually had direct access to the God that they served. And after He would leave in just a couple of years, He would send the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of God’s people, communicating His presence directly to their minds and hearts 24/7.
The tendency people have when a new paradigm is introduced is to either resist, or to simply add the new to the old, and try to run both simultaneously. But in His illustrations of the patch and the wineskins, Jesus is clearly pointing out that that will not work. The old way of doing things, including all of the ritual observances and the scheduled fasting so loved by the Pharisees, cannot coexist with the new paradigm of the kingdom. The one will simply wreck the other, and both will ultimately become ineffective.
What is needed is to enter wholeheartedly into the new way of relationship with God, and to let go entirely of the old way of ritual. This is hard for a lot of people to do, because the new way initially seems so foreign and different. It makes people uncomfortable, leaving them saying, “No, the old way is better.” But with the advent of the New Covenant, which Jesus was even then bringing in, the Old Covenant was being inactivated, no longer effective in reaching or pleasing God.
Father, we can still retreat into ritualistic forms of trying to reach You by our own efforts, and trying to please You with our own good works. Relationship is so much more difficult to maintain, so much more time- and labor-intensive. But it is also so much richer in its results. Help me, Lord, to be willing to let go of the useless and ineffective old forms, and to hold tightly to my relationship with You that Jesus makes possible. Amen.