“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment ..." (Matthew 9:16-17)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." (Matt. 9:16-17)

What does the parable of the 'unshrunk cloth' mean?

Many have called this a parable by Jesus, but it is really more of an analogy. The difference between a parable and an analogy is that a parable is a symbolic tale - a story of sorts. An analogy, on the other hand, is a metaphorical comparison.

Jesus is making a metaphorical comparison in this instance. He is making a comparison between wineskins and spiritual teachings.

This analogy by Jesus - spoken to the disciples of John the Baptist when they questioned Jesus' disciples' not fasting - indicates Jesus' role as the authorized prophet and representative of God ("Messiah").

Let's consider the meaning of this analogy more specifically:

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment"

The "patch" here represents the message of the Supreme Being - which is ever-fresh and applicable to our particular culture, time and circumstance.

The "old garment" represents the teachings of sectarian teachers that teach out of context with the time and circumstances. This was the case with the institutional temple teachers during Jesus' time - who claimed their teachings represented the Prophets and quoted them out of context with current events and issues.

Today, this would be applicable to those sectarian teachers who quote Jesus out of context to his message, and the time and circumstances of today.

Is there a difference between specific versus general instructions?

There are generally two types of spiritual teachings made by a spiritual teacher. One is a specific instruction regarding how to live our lives in the present circumstances, in the present society and situation.

This can be made to a specific individual or a group audience. This instruction might be appropriate at that time and circumstance, but often cannot be applied to an individual centuries later, during a different time, circumstance and society.

The other type of spiritual teaching is a universal instruction that can be applied to any time or circumstance. For example, Jesus taught his students to love the Supreme Being. This is an example of a timeless universal teaching.

Let's understand this clearly. Specific practical instructions given by a teacher to that teacher's students can often be misunderstood and misapplied if they are quoted centuries later. Those practical instructions may not be practical for the current society.

This type of context is called time and circumstance. Some of the instructions by ancient teachers - including the Prophets and Jesus - can be universally applied as God's message. However, many other instructions by these ancient teachers were specifically intended for their students and the circumstances those students were living within.

To try to apply many of those specific instructions to modern society is not practical. Furthermore, it can result in the instruction being manipulated, and the universal instructions become corrupted.

This is symbolized by the "patch" pulling away from the "garment." The manipulated instruction will not apply to the current situation nor will it please the Supreme Being - "making the tear worse."

This applies similarly in Jesus' next analogy:

"Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins."

The "new wine" represents the teachings of God coming from the lips of the living representative of God. The "new wineskins" represent the physical vessel - the physical body of the living representative of God - who speaks in contemporary language to a particular time and circumstance.

Jesus is responding to the fact that the specific, practical instructions of a former teacher - remember Jesus is speaking to John the Baptist's disciples - may not be applicable to the current condition - time and circumstance - of the audiences and students Jesus was teaching.

For this reason, the Supreme Being is constantly sending His representatives to teach us in every time and circumstance. They may, or likely not, be obvious to the general public. This is because God steers those who are serious to those He sends to earth.

We can see this by noticing that many of Jesus' disciples became teachers after Jesus left the planet. Those that did took on the role of representative of God. This is why Jesus sent them out to preach:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:19-20)
Furthermore, Jesus acknowledges that before him came many Prophets, who also were representatives of God. This includes John the Baptist.

It is obvious from this question by John's disciples and the above statements that the holiday that John’s disciples and the Pharisees were observing commemorated a particular Prophet from the past. To honor a past Prophet’s day with fasting was a tradition for thousands of years in ancient times, as documented in various scriptures.

This also illustrates an accepted lineage of teachers - accepted by John the Baptist, the Pharisees, and Jesus himself. This is why Jesus often quoted the teachings of the Prophets.

"No, they pour new wine into new wineskins..."

God uses a living person who is surrendered to Him to communicate to us his message with words and example. We can see this by the many practical teachings made by God's representatives throughout the ages. We can also see that in each era, those teachings were applicable to the customs and the circumstances of that particular society.

While the same overall message can be received from these messages - to love and serve the Supreme Being - specific practical instructions may not apply to a later society and culture.

This is precisely why a living teacher is required for one to understand God’s messages clearly. God does teach through scripture and from within - the Holy Spirit. However, the living representative of God confirms these and will apply God’s messages to the particular language, customs and to the present condition of the society at hand.

To doubt the Supreme Being's ability to reach each and every person is to doubt God's power and authority.

In fact, this lack of faith in the Supreme Being's ability to reach every person at every time and circumstance has produced a culture of fanaticism among many ecclesiastical religions around the world. The teachers and followers of these institutions have proposed that they have to force their philosophies upon others because if they don't then no one else will.

They do not accept God's power and authority to guide each of us individually.

Was Jesus God's only messenger?

Many also teach that their particular teacher is the only real messenger of God. This may seem loyal, but it is an offense - not only to the Supreme Being's ability to have and send His other servants to save us - but also to those many servants who made a sacrifice coming here to the physical world to help bring us home in different times and places.

The culture and society of Jesus’ time was dramatically different from what prevailed when Moses or Abraham lived thousands of years earlier. The environment, customs and daily circumstances were entirely different. Yet each was able to spiritually elevate those students who followed them - bringing them closer to the Supreme Being.

This analogy of the "spoilage" of the teachings (the "wine") that Jesus was speaking of, has also happened with respect to the use and interpretations of Jesus' teachings today. This comes as a result of political interpretation by ecclesiastical organizations who want to utilize Jesus' teachings to bolster the strength of their institutions and their quest for power and followers.

This was predicted by Jesus - who gave this clear answer:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:22)
Jesus is stating the bottom line here. Having a relationship with the Supreme Being is the goal. (Doing someone else's will requires knowing what that will is - and that requires a relationship.)

Jesus came to teach us - in words and actions - how to love God and do God’s will. And he was willing to suffer to underscore the importance of those teachings. He put aside his own physical comfort in order to serve the Supreme Being, and show us the ultimate love and sacrifice in that service.

But imitation is not the same as service. Service means determining what the Supreme Being wants us to do, and doing that.

Through dedication, commitment, praise, prayer and making offerings to God, we can connect with Him. Gradually, we can change our consciousness from self-centeredness to God-centeredness: We can gradually develop our own personal relationship with the Supreme Being, and make Him the center of our lives.

As this takes place, He opens up more to us, and we begin to know Him more. As we come to know Him more, our love for Him can begin to blossom.

Developing this relationship with God is precisely what Jesus illustrated to us with both his teachings and his ultimate sacrifice. This is why he prayed to God:
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42)