A question: But is the reply about fasting?
The authority of Jesus
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” — Matthew 9:14–17 ESVUK
This question about fasting comes in the second half of the second interlude in a section about Jesus performing miracles, the first part of that interlude was the call of Matthew. There are two questions raised in this interlude asked, the Pharisees were concerned that Jesus was mixing with the wrong sort of people and the disciples of John the Baptist asked why Jesus did not fast. Jesus’ answers to these questions tell us not only who Jesus was but also something about why he was doing what he was doing.
Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Matthew 9:12. The Pharisees complained because the people Jesus was eating with were sinners. Not that Jesus does not say that they are not sinners, nor does he turn on the Pharisees and say that they are sinners as well. He seems to be accepting that the Pharisees are well and the tax-collectors ill when he contrasts the well with the sick. What he does do is call himself a physician or doctor. The whole point is that Jesus is prioritising the worst. Jesus came for the worst people in society, The worse they were the more they need Jesus. Whenever we draw a line between ourselves and the wrong sort of people we can be sure that Jesus is on the other side of the line. That is where the church should be also, with the unworthy, unsuitable and dishonourable.
Jesus as a bridegroom tells up that what we are talking about here is a love story. The Bible story starts with a wedding, between Adam and Eve. In the Old Testament, God is the Bridegroom and the nation of Israel is the bride. Saint Paul tells us that Jesus is the new Adam, there is a wedding between Jesus the bridegroom and the Church that is his bride. Of course, the disciples are not fasting, they are the bride with her husband at his wedding breakfast.
God is not a despot waiting for us to step out of line so that he can zap us. God is the lover of humankind. God’s love is being shown in that he cared for the world so much that he became one of us. Christmas is coming when we celebrate that God became human in Jesus in order to give himself for us, a supreme act of love.
You do not patch an old garment with new cloth. Certainly not, in my youth, when I frequently wore patched jeans, the cloth for the patches came from the less worn out parts of even older jeans which had been patched and were now beyond patching. Fortunately for me, this was the 1970s so wearing patched jeans was more a fashion statement than a sign of poverty.
Jesus is bringing something new, he is saying that he has not come to patch things up. Patching up is what the Jewish law with its sacrifices that needed repeating did, they just patched things up until next year. Jesus takes people who are worn out and in need of repair and makes them new. Jesus brings wholeness, not just a patch.
In biblical times wine was fermented in skins, not barrels. Skins would stretch as the fermentation occurred. Old skins were already fully stretched, with no more give in them they would split if reused. If we are to receive the new wine of God’s Holy Spirit we need to be flexible enough to allow him to work while still remembering the old stuff that God did in your life last year or even yesterday.
Are you flexible enough?