Timing is important. The disciples could not fast while Jesus was among them. But when he was gone, then they would fast.
Then Jesus uses two other examples of timing. He said you don’t sew an un-shrunken piece of cloth to repair an old garment. If you do, then the tear, or hole, in the old garment is made worse.
Similarly, you don’t put new, fermenting wine in old wineskins. Fermentation has an expanding action, and old dried wineskins cannot adjust to this. They would burst, and everything would be ruined.
Perhaps Jesus was teaching us the difference between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament served its purpose well in an earlier period, when the people of God were in a more primitive state of relationship with God. But when Jesus came, the Messiah had come, perfecting all the covenants, prophets and law-givers that preceded Him – Abraham, Moses and Elijah.
Various dimensions of the Old Law, like the dietary code and the liturgical code, have been replaced with something much greater. The central part of the Old Law, the moral code and the Ten Commandments – remain intact, but even these have been improved upon by Jesus’ New Commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
Christ is cautioning us to deal with the past, our heritage, in appropriate ways, preserving what is valid, and making room for the newness that He brings.
In the monastery I see how the adage “new wine in new wineskins” applies. Every generation of new young monks brings their unique qualities and temperaments to the formation program. Some basics in formation do not change, but we must also take into consideration the unique qualities and temperaments of this generation. Some aspects of formation become obsolete, and are discarded.
You could apply this sense of timeliness to the idea of religious freedom today. Religious freedom – the right to worship God according to one’s best conscience, to teach morality and the formation of character, and to bring your religious principles into the public square – all these were very important to the early American colonies and to our founding fathers.
Hobby Lobby took out a full page ad on the 4th of July in the Kansas City Star and other major papers – It was all about “One Nation under God,” and there were extensive quotes from presidents, Supreme Court justices, and great patriots on the inter-connectedness of religion and the government. This nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and is a Christian nation. When the founding fathers drew up the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the very first right they wanted to protect was the right to religious freedom. That is what the establishment clause and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment are all about: protecting religious freedom.
But there has been a steady erosion of the protection of these rights by Supreme Court decisions since World War II. Secularists have cast a cloud of suspicion over religion. This skepticism has influenced the Supreme Court Justices and their rulings. Today religion is marginalized – kept within the confines of churches and synagogues – and kept out of the public square, kept out of public schools and universities, and there is an effort to keep religion out of the public airwaves. Think of the Johnson Amendment (barring the endorsement of political candidates by non-profit organizations). All this is a serious violation of citizens’ right to religious freedom and their right to freedom of speech.
All this is completely contrary to the intent and meaning of the First Amendment.
Citizens have a right to insist upon their civil rights, defined by the Constitution, and this includes their right to religious freedom and their right to freedom of speech.
New wine goes into new wineskins. The reality of fermentation and wine remain the same, but the means for achieving this may change. We make appropriate adaptations to preserve the basic articles of faith and morals in our Faith, and we also find ways to retrieve our basic human rights, like religious freedom.