Isn’t it amazing that you can read a passage from the Bible a hundred times and each time there seems to be something new that you haven’t considered as much as you might have? That was the case for me reading the passage from Matthew about the bridegroom being present and also the part I think more people remember, which is the cloth, wine, and wineskins part of the story. Jesus reminds us that new wine is not put in old wineskins because those skins might burst with the fermentation of the wine. While wineskins and cloth could both be patched, it had to be done very carefully to preserve the usefulness of everything.
It made me think about patches as I’ve experienced them. I remember when holes and slits were covered carefully by pieces of cloth that made the garment last a little longer, but you would never put a patch on a dress you would wear to church or school unless there was absolutely no alternate item of clothing to wear. In my grandparents time, and for many centuries before that, patches were often seen as a mark of frugality. Getting one was a symbol of getting a little more wear out of an otherwise useless dress, apron, or pair of pants. Patches were very carefully done to be as neat as possible, and, when the clothing finally wore out, the cloth could be cut out and made into patchwork quilts which prolonged the life of the fabric while producing something quite useful to the household. It was an example of “making do,” especially when times were hard and money was tight.
While I was reading, I thought of patches and remembered going to college for my freshman year. I had carefully packed just about everything I owned, and one of the things that I took with me was a wool blanket from my Aunt Edie’s house. I loved that blanket. It was scratchy, and it had a scent of wool and some other things. Of course, it had moth holes in it, so Aunt Edie had run new seam binding around the edges and patched the gaps with more of the same brown satin seam binding to make it serviceable. I unpacked my stuff and made up my bed before my new roommates came in, friends who had been together for years, and who came from a considerably higher social status than I did. They unpacked their new sheets and blankets and then decided we would go downtown to buy new bedspreads. I could see that they were looking askance at my patched cover, but I didn’t care. It was a link to home, and I was in a strange place, learning to live with people who were unknown persons that I had never met before, and the blanket spelled comfort. I didn’t really care about the patches, but I sometimes wished they weren’t there.
In Jesus time, there was very much a belief in the scarcity of goods. If someone had more of something, then others would have less to balance it out. If a wineskin got a hole in it, it would be patched with the hope that it would hold the wine added to it. Just because something had a hole in it did not mean it could be discarded and a new one procured to replace it.
It occurred to me that there are times when trying to put new ideas into rigid minds is very much like putting new wine in old and patched wineskins. The patches will shrink and leak, but the memory will simply slap another one on and hope that it will hold.
I noticed that as I get older that there are many times when it’s tough for me to change my mind about something, a kind of keeping old and patched ideas wrapped in a scratchy wool blanket with moth holes. Then I realize how many times I have come to new ideas and even beliefs that have opened my mind. It was like putting new wine into new wineskins so they can ferment and be stored safely. I think of that as a God moment. It makes me stop short and think about the transfer of this new knowledge this new wine into a wineskin put there just for it. Yes, the wine changes a bit, and the wineskin has to make a few adjustments, but still the new thoughts are there, the container is there, and it’s a perfectly natural process.
We never see Jesus with patched clothes, but maybe he had angels to patch them for him, or maybe artists and sculptors never considered that he would wear out the garments that he wore every day to travel and to preach in. Perhaps we should put a few patches on Jesus clothes. Maybe it would remind people that work wears things out, but if they are tended carefully and repaired regularly, they are a lot more useful for a longer time.
I may be old, and have plenty of patches on my soul, but if I allow Jesus to carefully patch those inside my soul, heart, and mind, then I can hopefully extend my usefulness into the project of bringing the kingdom of God here and now. I don’t even mind if Jesus uses very bright patterns of cloth. I’m planning on being a patchwork quilt when I go to meet him.
Image: Porter with a Wineskin by Niko Pirosmani (1862-1920). Location: The State Museum of Fine Arts of Georgia, Tbilisi. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.