Last week, following a seemingly puzzling quote by the prime minister, lots of people Googled the meaning of the old proverb “A stitch in time saves nine”. It actually means that a bit of effort early on at the start of a problem prevents a lot of effort later on when things have deteriorated. Anyone who has tried to mend a ladder in tights or a tear in the leg of a child’s pair of trousers will appreciate the wisdom of the proverb. There are many such sayings which capture wisdom succinctly in a word picture. But, of course, if they aren’t familiar or understandable then they don’t convey the message!
Jesus often used word pictures to preach his messages. One of those was also about mending clothes.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse”Mark 2:21
Of course, this is true. But Jesus was not talking about sewing. His disciples had just come under criticism for not following the pious customs of the religious leaders of the day. In particular they did not practice fasting, which was a ritual sign of unhappiness. Before his quote about the patch, Jesus asked:
“Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast”Mark 2:19
Jesus’ disciples were happy that Jesus was there, and so did not fast. They had recognized who he was – the promised Messiah. The religious leaders did not acknowledge Jesus in this way, and so carried on with their traditions, many of which Jesus said were false religion. So Jesus’ words contained a warning. He also meant that following him was not just a matter of making small modifications to old customs. That would be like sewing pieces of new cloth onto old garments. It would not work: it was not what God wanted. Jesus asked his disciples, then and now, to listen to him and to try to do what he said. This requires accepting new priorities in life, and giving up old habits and practices even if they have been important to us.
In this life things can go from bad to worse, much worse. Reading the Bible is far more important than a ‘stitch in time’. It can give us true meaning to our lives now and amazing hope for the future.