Unveiling Newness – The Parable of the New Cloth and Old Garment 

Matthew 9:16-17

In the Old Testament, the emphasis was often on justice and the law. For instance, the law of retaliation, or “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” comes from the Old Testament (Exodus 21:24). This law was about fairness and making sure that a punishment or compensation matched the crime or injury. It was a way to control violence and ensure justice within the community, based on the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

In contrast, Jesus introduces a new way of understanding and practicing forgiveness in the New Covenant. One of the most powerful examples of this new approach is found in Matthew 18:21-22, where Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. “Up to seven times?” Peter asks, thinking that forgiving someone that many times would be generous. Jesus responds, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” This response signifies not just a literal number but the idea of unlimited forgiveness. Jesus’ teaching goes beyond the legalistic approach of matching punishment with crime, emphasizing mercy, grace, and forgiveness instead.

The contrast between the two approaches highlights a shift from a focus on justice as retribution in the Old Testament to a focus on mercy and forgiveness in the New Covenant. While the Old Testament law aimed to establish justice and order, Jesus’ teachings in the New Covenant encourage forgiveness and reconciliation, even in situations where the law might allow for punishment. Jesus’ approach reflects a deeper understanding of justice—one that includes the restoration of relationships and the healing of communities through forgiveness.

In the New Covenant, the emphasis on forgiveness and mercy over strict justice is a call to live in a way that reflects God’s love and grace towards us. It challenges us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, transcending the limitations of the law to build a community based on love, mercy, and forgiveness. This radical approach to forgiveness under the New Covenant doesn’t negate the importance of justice but rather completes it with a higher law of love, as taught by Jesus.

Jesus’ parables show the incompatibility of the new teachings of Jesus (the New Covenant) with the old laws and practices of the Old Testament. Unshrunk cloth or new wine is not compatible with old garments or wineskins, the teachings of Jesus about forgiveness, mercy, and love cannot be constrained or fully understood within the rigid framework of the Old Testament law.

Unveiling Newness – The Parable of the New Cloth and Old Garment ~ Rev. Cheryl Farr

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