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.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
John the baptist’s disciples did not understand why they fasted and Jesus’ disciples did not. So they did the honorable thing. Rather than accusing Jesus and His disciples of anything they ask why.
John’s disciples followed typical practices about prayer and fasting. Many Jews fasted regularly (Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11). The zealous fasted twice a week. They fasted on Mondays and Thursdays.
Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom at a wedding festival. Mourning and fasting usually go together. There is no mourning at a wedding. Everyone is happy. It was as if Jesus said, “While I am with them it’s party time.” Then He added when the bridegroom is gone then they will mourn. This was an allusion to His death. He did not make His death explicit until the incident at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:13. Jesus knew from the start of his ministry He was going to die.
Jesus supported His statement with two comparisons. He took one from garments and the other from wine vessels. Both of these were illustrations of appropriateness. There was nothing wrong with a new or old cloth. There was nothing wrong with old or new wineskins. With appropriate use they are fine. When used inappropriately they cause harm.
Fasting has a place. There is nothing wrong with fasting. It is a good thing. But it is inappropriate at a party. It is inappropriate at a festival or wedding.
In our culture today the illustrations may be hard to understand. We do not wear patched clothing. We do not use wineskins.
Using an unshrunken cloth to patch a shrunken cloth causes the hole to get worse. As the new unshrunken cloth shrinks it tears the shrunken cloth. Wineskins were leather. As the wine fermented and expanded it would stretch new wineskins. Old wineskins were already stretched. They would burst as the fermentation required them to explain more.
Both illustrations contrasted old and new. Jesus ushered in a new covenant. It signaled the passing of the old. The old covenant cannot contain the new. It would tear and burst under the pressure.