In his first parable, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why he and his disciples didn’t fast. Why didn’t they follow the old ways, like the Pharisees?

Stepping back for a moment, thinking of Jesus’ story as a larger parable itself, the Pharisees represented our pride, ego, and overconfidence. They saw their beliefs as knowledge, unquestionable, unadulterated, absolute truth. With them in opposition to Jesus, who was the obvious protagonist, these accepted scholars and leaders of men were a warning to the ages, which Jesus stated repeatedly: “…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 18:14.

The Pharisees were the original passive aggressive types. Jesus was a threat to their order, their roles as important men. No one wants to be made to look like a fool.

The ultimate hero archetype, Jesus was too cool-headed to trip over his words. How he reacted to the Pharisees was a lesson too, echoed here: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”—Matthew 5:39.

Don’t answer hate with hate. You can’t win that fight.

Instead of answering their specific question about why he and his disciples didn’t follow the laws of Moses by fasting, Jesus told his first parable.

“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.”—Matthew 9:16.

Before they could protest or ask for clarification, the Pharisees were hit with the second part of the parable:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”—Matthew 9:17.

There are some indisputable truths. We all like to think we have a monopoly on these, and that everyone else is stupid. But our “truths” are often little more than beliefs, because we just don’t know that much. We can’t let on that we’re ignorant, though. People admire confidence. Who can blame them? If someone knows the way out of this darkness, then who wouldn’t want to follow them? While we may be confident about our abilities in certain, limited fields, none of us knows everything.

Jesus used two simple, indisputable truths to illustrate his point to the Pharisees. New cloth shrinks. If you use it to patch already shrunken garment, then both the cloth and the garment will be lost, wasted. As wine ferments in wineskins, the skins stretch and then harden. If you pour new wine into the already hardened wineskin, then the skin will burst as the fermentation causes it to expand.

Before the Pharisees could say anything else, and I imagine they were quite tongue tied, a man approached, asking Jesus to accompany him, and bring his dead daughter back to life. So the crowd followed, and the Pharisees were left to ponder the meaning of the parable. They couldn’t argue with the facts. New cloth shrinks. Wine ferments and causes wineskins to harden, which will then rupture if any more is poured into them. They came expecting a debate, but he didn’t answer them in the way they were prepared for.

Jesus offered what is still, today, a radical idea. Let us not put our rules, rituals, and busywork before love. But some people need to be busy. They depend on the concrete quality of rules to provide solid ground where what would, otherwise, be quicksand. That’s all fine, except these ideas that we just made up, because we’re bored and need structure, distract us from loving one another.

The rules become more important than the people.

This radical idea is the “new” component in the parable. It is the patch and the new wine. The garment and the wineskin are both vessels. They symbolize our old ways.

You can’t shove the new and old together, and expect them to play well.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Balance that with this:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Jesus didn’t want to destroy what we have. But we need to change, otherwise we cling to what, long ago, might have seemed like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work anymore. We have to change, be made new so that we can receive the new message, so that we can put love above our worldly rules, so that we can be happy, and fulfilled.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and greatest commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 22:37-40.

For the purpose of this (and future) essays, I use this definition of God:

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

I added the bold to illustrate the definition. Thinking of an infinite being, considering what they want of us, can be very confusing. By the time we work through, come to despise, or given up on comprehending infinity, we have lost the original intention of the gospels. I don’t mean to say there isn’t a God, or that there is, and He is really a She, or who knows what all. Believe what you will. But, to simplify my meditation on Jesus’ parables, I will assume God = Love to be an axiom.

Looking at the above quote from Matthew 22:37 again, the greatest commandment is that we love…period. Not only that, but that we should grow to love loving. Want to know why we’re here, what our purpose is? That’s it. Everything else comes after it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”—Exodus 20:3.

Put nothing before love. That was Jesus’ radical idea. All of his parables were lessons, ways to meditate by means of storytelling, passed down to us so that we not hold onto our old, comfortable ways. Each parable is another step, another personal apocalypse. Will we follow the Pharisees’ example, or Jesus’? It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Which path are you on? Which path will you take?

The first step is the hardest: no momentum yet. You have to be new to embrace what’s new. But you can’t be new until you’ve embraced it. A paradox!

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

Jesus said we’re pretty ignorant. So I think it’s okay that we don’t know everything. We don’t have to get it right on the first try, or ever, even. The point is that we try; we make the effort. We’ll mess up almost always. But sometimes we get it right. And when you get love right, everyone wins.

Advertisements