In Mark 2, Jesus uses three examples to discuss His place in the grander scheme of things. That is, where the Old Covenant meets the New Testament. Yesterday, we talked about the example of fasting while the groom is still with us. Today, we're moving on to the more dangerous examples. Beginning with patches.
No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that hasn't shrunk. The patch will shrink and tear the cloth and it will be worse off than when it began. (Mark 2; paraphrase)
The Old Testament creates a lot of space. It hints and alludes and prophesies about what is to come without ever really fleshing out a picture of what that means. It talks about voices in the wilderness and suffering servants and the line of David's kingship, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks about what these things might refer to. (And believe it or not, there is quite a bit of discussion about such things, even today.) But in the empty spaces of the Old Testament, the faithful began to form an idea of what the Messiah must be like, of what He would do when He gets here, of what He would be, of how He would talk, of how He would lead, of a million little things about Him that they thought must be true based on the revelation of the Old Covenant. Based on the faithfulness of the people to God...and of God to His people.
Then Jesus gets here, and everyone's waiting to see what spaces He's going to cover. Everyone's trying to write Him back into the Old Testament. Everyone's trying to trace His form through the Scriptures. And to a certain extent, you can. You can clearly see this Jesus take shape through the creation, the patriarchs, the exodus, the histories, the prophets, the wisdom. But to another extent entirely, there's just no way.
Even as hard as they were looking, no one expected this Jesus.
They expected a political king; He was no such thing. Never claimed to be. Never aspired to be. They were expecting some powerful figure; He wasn't. He was mocked, ridiculed. They were expecting some bolts of lightning, some celestial storm; a single star guided the way. It wasn't until His death that the earth testified to His power and glory, and by then, it seemed too late. And throughout His life, throughout His ministry, people - even faithful people - kept trying to push Him into their boxes. They kept trying to make Him what they expected Him to be. They kept trying to patch the spaces in the Old Covenant with this new Jesus, and He says plainly this won't work.
Because when you do this, Jesus shrinks. He becomes less than He was meant to be. If He had been a political king, then what? Can He be Lord over all if His Lordship is tied to a specific civilization? Suppose, then, that this civilization dies out or is conquered. Christ loses some of His esteem; the covenant is torn. It is just as the old coat with the new patch - the patch shrinks; the coat tears. If He had been some powerful figure, then what? Can the clearly superior teach a man anything about love? The entire Old Law is supposed to lead toward Love. If Christ is better, stronger, more supernatural than man in every way, can He teach man anything at all about himself? Or about Himself? Christ loses the essence of who He is, exchanging love for power; the Law leads nowhere after all. The patch shrinks and the coat tears.
This happens every time we try to fit Jesus into our molds. It happens when we come to expect certain things of Him and try to make Him be those things. It comes when we have an idea of what He's supposed to be and start looking only for that in Him. We lessen His glory. And we're still doing that. We still have all of these ideas about who Jesus is, about who He is supposed to be, about how He really thinks, about what He really means. We have ideas about how Jesus would respond to this or that situation, about what the Messiah must be in our world. In our lives. In our hearts. And we go about trying to make Jesus what we want Him to be. Or what we think we need Him to be.
In doing so, we ruin everything. We shrink Jesus. We put Him untested, untried on the spaces of our lives and when rain comes, He shrinks. He gets lesser and lesser as He fails to live up to our expectation, to our requirement of Him. He becomes this smaller thing, this lesser god until the day comes that He is no god at all. And then it's far too easy to walk away. And with this smaller Jesus, even the Law cannot hold us. It cannot shield us. Because it tears as Jesus shrinks and pulls into it. It rips apart. It becomes a law leading to nowhere rather than a law leading to Love. It doesn't mean anything. All the prophecy, all the guidance, all the wisdom...it's nothing. It's nothing when our little Jesus doesn't fit into it.
That's not to say there's not a way. There is, of course, a way. And we'll get to that. But the way is not through patching. Jesus was never meant to be a patch. Whenever we try to make Him such, whenever we try to sew Him into the spaces in our understanding, He becomes smaller and pulls on our understanding until the very fabric of our faith unravels and we're left standing naked. No, we cannot place Christ over the Old Covenant.
Nor, as we'll see tomorrow, can we pour Him into it.