Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”
And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” — Matthew 9:14-17 (cf. Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:36-39).
Here we have the disciples of John (and Pharisees) questioning Jesus about fasting.
Jesus explaines that because He is present as the Messiah (the bridegroom), His disciples did not need to fast. However, Jesus recognizes a future time when He would not be with them and then they would have a reason to grieve and fast.
Jesus’ response is intended to be a jab at the Pharisees, a response that could enrage them even further. He compares His time with His disciples to a wedding feast. He’s the bridegroom and they are the friends/guests. By doing this He puts the spotlight directly on Himself, Whom they are trying to discredit. After all, was it not Jesus Who is breaking their rules (traditions)? Then, with the parables that follow He tells them that in His presence, things have changed; their old rules didn’t apply, and in His Gospel of the Kingdom, there was something new.
Parable of the Old and New Garments
This parable illustrates the incompatibility of the old with the new. And when Jesus uses the illustration of the unfinished cloth being used as a patch for an old garment, He is implying that something new, yet unfinished, is not compatible with something old, which has been damaged or torn. The new, unfinished cloth is His message of the Kingdom; the old, torn garment is the present condition of Judaism. The New Covenant is not yet fully revealed, so it is not completely understood. The Old Covenant (the Law and the Prophets) has been damaged, torn and rendered useless by the religious whims of men, determined to follow their flesh, rejecting God’s righteousness and devising means to produce their own self-righteousness (the scribes and the Pharisees and their followers).
They could never repair the old, damaged garment by simply adding the new, unfinished cloth to it, the result would be something even more damaged than the original. Remember that Jesus is being accused of not keeping the rules of the religious crowd. But also remember, this was a mixed crowd. So, were the disciples of John trying to repair the old torn garment (Judaism) by adding a patch of unfinished cloth, (John’s message of repentance and Jesus’ Good News of the kingdom) to the Pharisees self-righteous rituals? They may have been.
Parable of New Wine and Old Wineskins
Grapes start fermenting immediately after being pressed. New wine continues to ferment and builds up pressure that would burst a used wineskin (leather bags made of sheep/goat skin). If new wine is stored in old wineskins, the brittle old bags would burst due to the fermenting process. However, old wineskins could be reconditioned/ softened by soaking them in water for some time. In this process, they would lose some of their brittleness and become pliable enough to hold new wine.
Jesus is saying that the old patterns of fasting are inappropriate for the fullness of the kingdom that has now arrived.
The old is incompatible with the new. The new wine — the Gospel — would destroy those trapped in their rigid, religious ways. To them, the new message it pictures would be lost forever. The new message of the kingdom is going to experience expansion and change as it distances itself from the old dried out, inflexible/brittle Jewish system. And those who receive it must be ready and able to withstand the pressures caused by the agitation and violence of that process. Jesus makes it clear that the new message can only be successfully deposited in the old heart that has been reconditioned and is soft, pliable and ready to extend itself to new limits as the revelation of the kingdom continues to grow.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.