On the surface, this is a fairly prosaic question about fasting. Jesus is in the middle of a feast (5:27-31) with tax collectors and “sinners,” and the disparity between that behavior and the more ascetically minded John the Baptist, and even that of the Pharisees, is quite stark. Why do Jesus’ disciples go to parties instead of fasting?
Jesus’ answer is clear. They do not fast now because he is still with them (the “bridegroom”). But there will come a time when they do fast, when “he is taken away from them.”
But the context of this questions also allows Jesus to tell a parable, a story which illustrates a spiritual truth, of great importance and significance. Clearly, Jesus is bringing something “new” into the world, and into their lives—if they will accept it. This “new” thing is strange and unfamiliar and controversial; how are they to understand it?
Jesus’ two parables—first the new garment, then the new wineskins—are told to make a single point. To accept the new wine of the gospel we ourselves must become “new wineskins.” We must be (as Jesus says in John chapter 3) “born again.” There must be a complete change, not just a superficial acceptance. We must become new, not merely experience something new. A new message which does not correspond with the work of the Spirit in creating a new person will only create a tear in the garment or a split in the wineskin. We need new wineskins for new wine.
He also adds a telling remark at the end: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” If someone has experienced the old way of doings thing pre-Christ, in the law, and in their own old life, then it is much harder for them to accept the new wine. What is needed is not simply the new wine but also the entire new wineskins.
Which brings us to the application: do we simply experience the “new wine” of the gospel or have we also become “new wineskins”? Do we leave Christ to, as it were, occupy some corner of our mind or heart or lifestyle, or has Christ become our all in all? Is our religion of the kind that marginalizes Christ, and treats the religious duty as something that “we” do based on our “preferences” or the “way things have always been done,” or is our faith radically transformed by the power of Christ and his Word so that we are transformed into entire new wineskins?
Would you pray today that as you drink of the new wine of the gospel, that your life, the entire wineskin, would also be transformed?
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