You have stripped off the old human nature, complete with its patterns of behaviour, and you have put on the new one – which is being renewed in the image of the creator, bringing you into possession of new knowledge. In this new humanity there is no question of ‘Greek and Jew’, or ‘circumcised and uncircumcised’, of ‘barbarian, Scythian’, or ‘slave and free’. The king is everything and in everything! [Colossians 3: 9-11 (NTE)]
Even though it wasn’t required, zealous Jews like the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s ascetic disciples fasted twice a week. For many of them, their religion had become one of laws, rituals, and works. When some of John’s followers questioned why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast as did they, Jesus explained with the illustration of patching an old garment with new fabric.
No 1st century seamstress would sew a new piece of unshrunk cloth onto a worn and washed piece of clothing and not just because the two pieces wouldn’t match. Ancient cloth was usually wool or linen, both of which shrunk when washed. After the garment was washed, the new patch would shrink causing it to pucker and pull away from the old. Such a repair job would only make the original tear larger. Cutting a hole out of new fabric would ruin it, as well. The new way of Jesus, a way of grace rather than law, relationship rather than ritual, and faith rather than works, could not be patched into the old religious practices of Judaism.
It’s important to remember that Jesus never said the garment was bad, only that it was old. In fact, the Greek word translated as old was palaios. Meaning old in the sense of worn out and decrepit, palaios conveyed the sense of being obsolete, antiquated, or on its last legs. The garment had served its purpose and it was time for a new one!
Jesus’ way couldn’t be patched into the old religious practices of Judaism and His simple illustration made it clear that, in spite of their shared beginning, Christianity is not an extension or Version 2.1 of Judaism. Rather than repairing or reforming Judaism, He inaugurated a brand-new covenant. He didn’t improve the old system; He replaced it with a new version of man’s relationship with God. Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to repair us; He died and rose again to make us new!