18Now the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting, and they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21No one sews a new patch of cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear is worse. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine bursts the wineskin and both the wine and the skin is destroyed. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
The disciples of John and the Pharisees approach Jesus with a question: why don’t Your guys fast like everyone else? Aren’t they also religious? There was only one day in the entire year when the observant Jew was required to fast, and that was the Day of Atonement, when every citizen was to repent. The Pharisees, ever the example of carving out self-serving legalism from the holy Law, fasted on two days every week—Mondays and Thursdays from 6 AM-6 PM. Seeing Jesus’ disciples NOT fast was jarring to them; they seemed rather irreligious in their merriment. Jesus’ response in verse 19 is a prophetic look ahead to the Cross that He knows He will endure. In the first century, a newly married couple didn’t leave on a honeymoon; they stayed around the house for a week-long party with their closest friends. It was the happiest week of the groom’s life. These closest friends were known as “children of the wedding hall,” which is the actual, literal translation of οἰ υἱοἰ του νθμφωνος. Jesus is likening His merry little band of disciples to such friends, and predicts that the time is coming when there will be plenty of opportunity for fasting. Then He begins to make a greater point about the inherent goodness of the Mosaic ritual.
Jesus employs two metaphors to do this. The first metaphor is that of sewing a patch. When mending clothing, a new piece of cloth had the disadvantage of not having been shrunk yet; in the rain, it would shrink and tear the old garment if applied as a patch. What was needed in such a situation was not a patch, but a completely new garment. The time for patching was over; the time for the creation of a brand new garment was upon the wearer. The second metaphor concerned the wine and the wineskins (there were no bottles in those days). New skins had elasticity; as the wine fermented and gave off gases, the new skins could yield with the pressures. Old ones were brittle and would burst. In such a situation, the time for patching was over; it was time for a new wineskin. Both of these metaphors describe the Law and its attendant rituals; the Law was holy (since it was given by God), and had its purpose—to point to the coming Messiah. Now that He was here, the “patching” that the Pharisees did to the Law was no longer necessary, since it was now fulfilled. Something new was being created. Jesus Christ, Who makes all things new, was pointing to this elasticity of the mind as a good thing: the ability to accept the new thing that God is doing.
There is a time and place for fasting. Perhaps you feel led to fast and do without some pleasures in life so that you are certain that you are their master and not the other way around. Perhaps the discipline of fasting heightens your prayer life. But the ritual of fasting is only as effective as it draws you closer to the New Thing that God has done for us: the giving of the Messiah. Is your mind elastic enough to accept a new way? As you grow spiritually, are you able to accept the new thing that God is doing in your own spiritual walk? Or are you so married to “how I’ve always done things” that you cannot imagine a different path? The Lord makes all things new, and that includes you.
Be prepared for the new work that God is completing in you. Be prepared to infuse your religious ritual with a heightened attention to the things that God is accomplishing in you.