Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ 15And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, 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.’
I’ve reflected some on this passage in my posts on fasting and feasting (Part one and two). What continues to puzzle me is the two metaphors at the end about patches and wineskins. I’ve had it explained a million different ways and used the metaphor myself many times. However, when I stop long enough to think about it and read the text, I get confused again. Jesus continually connects himself to the past, the tradition of the Hebrew people, but also reinterprets this tradition in radical ways (The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7 being the best example).
Here the question concerns fasting and feasting again. When is the proper time for each? Committed Jews would have practiced fasting as a part of their ongoing religious devotional life, at least the Pharisees thought they should. Jesus’ disciples don’t fit into these ways of thinking about religious practice. Jesus is clarifying (although 2000+ years later is it clearer?) this problem.
The bridegroom is present so it’s feast time. When the bridegroom leaves it will be time for fasting. Then Jesus shifts gears and loses me. Apparently the writer (and Jesus) see these things as connected. You don’t want to put unshrunk patches on old clothes or new wine in old wineskins. Both things cause greater damage to the old thing.
This passage is often used to bolster any and every change that someone wants to make in the church. It is said that Jesus is against tradition. God wants to do a NEW thing, right? True, but I don’t see where Jesus condemns the old cloak or old wineskins for being old here. The problem is only that they don’t work with the new patch or wine. If nothing else Jesus is asking the Pharisees to rethink their understanding of religious practice and its meaning. In light of Jesus all these good things the Pharisees practice will require new vessels to contain them.
We are at a similar place now where we need some new vessels to contain the trans-local gospel. Likewise our food system cannot support local and sustainable systems as it is currently configured. Reinterpretation, redemption and resurrection require significant change and transformation. But we should be careful not to burn down the house before we get there.
If that makes any sense can I get a comment? The heat may be getting to me.