Once a friend in Finland told me that Americans live in a “throw-away culture.”
It took me awhile to grasp his meaning, but unfortunately, he is correct. He did not mean that our culture should be relegated to the rubbish bin, but that we throw a thing away rather than trying to fix what is broken. Relative to the cultures of the world ours is young, and we don’t always value those things that are old — be they human or material.
Personally, I reject this way of life. Consequently, Eichman’s Electrical Supply in downtown Xenia remains one of my favorite places! Though I fear those kinds of stores may not always exist, for now Eric Van Horn runs the store, and he still fixes things. Having talked with him, I believe he fixes things partly because he recognizes the quality existing in the older workmanship. A thing of quality and value merits being preserved. A thing cheaply made might not be worth fixing or saving at all.
Jesus dealt with this very notion when answering a question about fasting in Matthew 9:16-17. The questioners wonder why Jesus’ close followers do not fast as often as other religious sects. A sensible reason existed — Jesus saw it as inappropriate to mourn during the season of grace in which they lived — but he extends his answer to say something about the blending of new religious ideas with established ones. “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made. Neither do people put new wine in old wineskins, or else the skins will burst. The wine will be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, you put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Jesus here advocates for several things he finds worth preserving.
In this short parable, the reader must recall that the ancients did not live in a “throw-away culture” such as ours, and had every interest in keeping the old garment, the wine, and the old wineskins. Some interpreters focus on the “new wine,” linking it with the fresh spirit carried in Jesus’ teachings, and that, I believe is correct based on how a similar analogy gets used in the literature of the rabbis (Pirkei Avot 4). But what of the old garment? How do we protect both the old garment and the new wine?
Here Jesus’ brilliant mind creates an analogy that demands two things make accommodations so that both things are preserved. His movement is both the unshrunk patch and the new wine, which, without proper accommodation could ruin the old, valuable garment and the wineskins. The old garment and the old wineskins, I believe, represent the Judaism of his
day, which he did not wish to see destroyed. Contrary to popular opinion, his was a reform, repentance, and Messianic movement inside Judaism, which took on the corrupt temple establishment and sought to bring the long-expected consolation to Israel.
With this noble aim, Jesus went to those lost sheep of Israel — any who had become estranged from the One True God — and called them back. Even after his resurrection, his followers were instructed to go first to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to continue to be missionaries to the world (Acts 1:8). Rather than seeking to dissolve ancient Judaism and replace it with a new religion, he sought to preserve and renew the best of it with the fresh wind of his teachings.
Kyle A. Kettering graduated from Xenia Christian High School in 1998, Cedarville University in 2004, and Nyack’s Alliance Theological Seminary in 2017 with a degree in ancient Judaism and Christian origins. Kyle serves as a teaching elder at Church of the Messiah in Xenia.