A passage was explained in church this morning (May 30, 2021) that I have never understood. So I will try to be a good errand boy and hand on what I’ve learned.  

John’s disciples were questioning why they and the Pharisees fasted, but Jesus and His disciples did not.  The disciples of John said in effect, “The religious ideal which we have held to be true and which the Pharisees have evidently held to be true seems utterly different from the religious ideal of Your disciples.”   

The passages involved are Mark 2:18-22, Matthew 9:14-17 and Luke 5:33-39.

As disciples of John, these men were likely very good, sincere men,  but in this situation they were the self-appointed fun police.  Jesus’ disciples were not being spiritual enough.  They were having too much fun.  

John’s disciples were fasting, possibly out of an Old Covenant orientation as one of the godly disciplines as good Jewish men. Or possibly they were fasting because John, their leader, was in prison (Mark 1:14).     

A dose of asceticism – the belief that harsh treatment of the body and seriousness about life may lead to advanced spirituality –  may have been involved.  

Jesus’ disciples were a happy bunch.  He said in effect, “How can these men be other than merry when I am with them?”  The God-Man affirmed the right to merriment when it is caused by being with Him.  After He was gone, they would fast. 

Christ defended that which puzzled the disciples of John by talking about something opposite of the repentance and mourning that is associated with fasting. He talked about a wedding; some of which lasted a week.   Jesus compared His disciples to the guests at a wedding, where joyous feasting would be appropriate. It would be unthinkable for guests to fast at a wedding. 

In the passages mentioned above, before the fasting question, there was the calling of a hated tax collector – Levi.  Immediately Levi (also named Matthew) had a I’m-leaving-to-follow-Jesus; retirement-from-tax-collecting dinner party. Jesus was the Guest of honored.  He ate with Levi and his tax collector buddies, showing His acceptance of them and His interest.   

Then our Lord illustrates what He is saying by talking about unshrunk patches and old wineskins.  If a patch – made of strong, new cloth — is sewed over a hole in a warn and weak garment — it is attached to thin, older fabric, the new patch will pull away from the old cloth, making the tear worse.  

And wine had to be put in new, flexible, expandable wineskins. Why? Because as juice ferments, it gives off gases and expands.  If a wineskin had already been stretched by a previous quantity of wine, it became dried and brittle, unable to expand again.  

And just what was the Lord saying?   Why does our Lord move from fasting to feasting?  And on to new patches and the old wineskins?  What is being said?  This is the connection which had not been made for me until this morning.  

He was saying was, “I am doing something which is totally new.  Trying to be an ascetic to earn extra credit is like putting a new patch over weakened cloth – it won’t work.  It is like trying to put new wine in an old wineskin.”

“You must adjust your thinking to move away from law and self-salvation to grace.  Grace with rip the old cloth of legalism and shatter the old wineskins of Jewish tradition.   

Indeed, the new wine of the Gospel bursts the bonds of self-salvation. 

“Do not attempt to measure this new thing by the old thing. The old was right as long as it was God’s will to use the old. But now the Gospel is the new movement God is doing.  There are new motives, new forces, new impulses on the spiritual horizon.  You must not try to put the new into the narrow limits of the old.  The old is over; the new is here.

The new wine of the kingdom can’t be held in the old approach to spirituality.  The old can’t handle the world-wide expansiveness of the new. Jesus did not come to mend the old, but replace it. 

Out with the old, in with the new.