Matthew 9:14-26 (ESV)
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” 18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.
In verse 14, the disciples of John are puzzled by what Jesus has done, and they ask, “Why are we fasting, but the disciples of Jesus aren’t?” Jesus let them know the time would come when his followers would fast too, but at the time of this text, since he was still physically with them, it wasn’t yet appropriate. Then he explained that he brought something new. Jesus said it would be absurd to patch an old, ragged piece of clothing with a fresh piece of material. When the mended garment endured strain, the strong new patch would pull away from the thin, tattered material. The resulting tear would be worse than if the patch were never even used. The same principle held true for wine and wineskins. Old wineskins lost their elasticity. If new wine, which was still fermenting, was placed in old wineskins, the chemicals produced during the fermentation process would cause the old skins to burst. The point Jesus made would have been clear to his audience. Jesus was not trying to patch up the old system of Judaism. Now, Jesus was in no way dismissing the Old Testament. Instead, he rejected many of the religious practices that had grown out of Jewish tradition.
Then Matthew records the seventh and eighth of ten miracles in chapters 8 and 9. Jesus healed two daughters: the child of a synagogue ruler and a woman he addressed as “daughter.” Jesus continued to powerfully demonstrate the principles he taught. Thinking back on the patch and the wineskins, how attached are we to traditions? Are we unwilling to budge when it comes to our favorite practices? We need to make sure we hold fast to biblical law and principle, yet remain flexible in areas that aren’t moral issues and may need to adapt over time. Should women wear pants to church? Should drums and an electric guitar be included in worship? Should the weekly bulletin be published in paper or digital format? If we get too hung up on the way things used to be, we can lose our ability to be effective for the gospel in a rapidly changing world. Remember, we are saved to let go of ourselves and lead others to Jesus. So, hold fast to God’s absolutes, yet bend wherever Jesus would bend to reach as many people as possible with the good news.