If I can beg the indulgence of this forum, I'm going to (from time to time) write on the subject of the teachings of Jesus.
Many may think this is proselytizing. If you think any mention of Jesus Christ is proselytizing and that offends you, please stop right here. If you would like to learn more about what Christ said (for whatever reason) I hope you will continue.
That was said because I don't want to debate in these posts the existence of God... which simply degrades into "yes He does", "no he doesn't", "yes He does"... So, I humbly ask that we not post those type of comments on this thread. Thank you in advance for this indulgence.
Jesus often taught in parables. Why? I personally think it was for multiple reasons. Two of which are...
1) Abstract examples that we can get our heads around are an excellent means of teachings.
2) They allowed Jesus to make points his enemies (Pharisees and Sadducees) had trouble using for purposes of persecution of Him and his followers.
The first parable in the New Testament comes from Matthew 9:14-16 and is known as the "Parable of the New Cloth on an Old Coat"; though it addresses much more than that.
It is this parable that I'm going to discuss/dissect today.
Like many accounts and parables, this one is found in multiple places in the New Testament. This one can be found in three places...
I provide the links above for reference and provide the text of the first (Matthew) below.
Matthew 9:14-16 (Jesus Questioned About Fasting)
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
There are minor differences in the accounts. The main one here is in who is asking. In Matthew, John's disciples are asking; in Mark, some people who notice the difference ask; in Luke Pharisees and teachers ask after Jesus dines with Levi the tax collector.
It's not that important, but it's possible that Jesus was asked this question multiple times. As we see today with new stories, the same question gets on people's minds and is brought up many times. It could also be multiple's people's account of the same event.
Times are different now than then; so it helps to explain the historical differences for context purposes.
Patches: Today, people don't patch clothing much anymore. It was a necessity back during Jesus' time all the way up to about a century ago. Most of us at least know that new clothing shrinks as it is washed, but eventually stops shrinking. The parable relies on us knowing this. If you had a tear in a old garment that has already shrunk as much as it is going to; and you sewed on a patch of new (unshrunk) cloth to fix it... what would happen? The patch would shrink, and the old cloth would not, thus the stitches would be torn and a new (likely worse) tear would result.
Wineskins: Wine was stored in wineskins made of leather; which by design expanded as the wine fermented. But as the wine was consumed the wineskin became old and dry. The wineskins were not thrown away, they could be used again IF they were prepared properly. This usually included soaking them in water and applying a little olive oil. This newly prepared process is what Jesus is referring to as new. If you put wine in a wineskin not prepared properly, it wouldn't stretch properly and would likely burst.
OK... we're finally getting to discussing the actual parable. I'm going to give you the summary of what Jesus is saying first, and then we'll go into some detail.
Jesus is making two points with this parable...
1) Jesus is saying, as things are now (Me with the apostles) it would be inappropriate for them to fast because His presence is a time of joy... BUT, the time is coming soon when I won't be with them and then there will be plenty of time for sorrow and fasting.
2) Jesus uses this parable to contrast the old (Judaism) and the new (the coming Christian kingdom). While one makes way for the other, Christianity isn't just a patch to Judaism but rather something completely new and separate. It is folly to think Judaism is to be reformed, even trying would make the damage worse than it is now.
Why the Question
First, we look at why the question is being asked. Obviously, differences have been noticed between Jesus and his disciples and those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. "The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), and these disciples imitated them. They could not understand why he did not require similar austerities" (B. W. Johnson Commentary). Jesus, if anything, did not hold to the old customs which often angered the establishment (like the Pharisees) and confused those who followed the Pharisees.
The Pharisees often asked Jesus such questions always in hopes of 1) Catching Jesus saying something they can claim as heretical 2) Getting Jesus to say something that will separate him from his followers 3) Getting Jesus to say something that will anger the Roman authorities OR 4) Goading Jesus in debating matters of law. They were never successful.
In this case the question itself infers that Jesus and company are not living up to some religious standard; some expected public display of piousness. Imagine Jesus' opinion of such self-righteous public displays. It brings to mind the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee.
I'm mentioning this because it actually becomes important when Jesus talks about the old standard of those asking the question and the new standard of those it is directed to. (See below concerning the cloth and wineskin)
We might also note that this is something we would expect from the Pharisees; but not necessarily from followers of John the Baptist. Perhaps by this time John's followers are without him as he was thrown in prison by Herod. His followers may have fallen under the influence of the Pharisees.
The New as Viewed by Jews and Rome:
At the time (and to come after Christ ascended into Heaven) the Jews considered Christianity heretical and something that needed to be stamped out. Saul of Tarus himself was committed to this, killing many Christians for their faith.
Rome, for awhile, considered Christianity just a offshoot of Judaism. Rome actually had a list of legally acceptable religions and a list of illegal religions. Judaism was on the list of sanctioned Religions and Christianity enjoyed protection as a subset of Judaism for a time. Eventually Rome changed it's mind (probably at the behest Jews like the Pharisees) to declare Christianity illegal. Then the persecution began in earnest.
Now let's look at what example of piousness was selected that prompted the parable in the first place; fasting.
The activity selected by the questioners is irrelevant to the point Pharisees wished to make; which was Jesus and his followers were not as pious and devout as they were... and thus should not receive all this attention He is getting. They could have chosen any number of pious things to make this point.
However, this selection did allow Jesus to drop a hint concerning things to come. (see below)
Fasting, I think is/was multifaceted. One breaks the normal and necessary part of life (eating) so as to accomplish something beyond nourishment. Maybe something that you need as much (or more) than bodily nourishment.
So why do we fast. There are different reasons given... 1) to express sorrow and mourning, 2) in repentance acknowledging failings to God and seeking his guidance as we pick ourselves up and move forward, 3) to express our commitment to our relationship with God, and 4) perhaps an exercise in denial and self-discipline.
Perhaps we remember three rather famous examples of fasting in the Bible:
♦ First there was Moses up on Mt Sinai with God. He fasted for forty days and nights as he communed with God and chiseled the Ten Commandments.
♦ Second might be David fasting and pleading to God for the life of his Son. When his son died, David accepted it; got up and moved on with his life.
♦ And then there was Jesus who went into the desert and fasted for forty days and nights; as the fasting ended Satan came to Him and tempted him. Jesus used the word of God to defeat him.
Not Now, But Later:
Jesus' uses an example of a happy occasion to say that now was not the time for fasting for his disciples. In Jewish custom, weddings were a time when the friends of the bridegroom surrounded him and celebrated. Jesus rightly states that such a happy event would be no time for the somberness of fasting.
So here Jesus is comparing himself the bridegroom and his disciples to His friends. I think there are several hidden meanings here. While the wedding is used often in the Bible, it is particularly used to emphasize Jesus' relationship to the church (the sum total of His followers). The church is depicted as the bride and Jesus as the bridegroom. More relevant is that in this remark, I think Jesus is foreshadowing His own death.
"But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast", meaning the time for somberness and fasting is approaching faster than you or they think.
Jesus could have left it at that, but he still had a message to impart concerning the change people were just now starting to encounter. Change that would grow in magnitude as His kingdom came to fruition.
In the next two parts of this parable, understand that the old (cloth and wineskin) represent Judaism and the new represent Christianity (His kingdom).
So here Jesus is comparing Judaism to a worn-out garment in need of mending. The emphasis the Pharisees put on man-made doctrine and rituals makes this clear. They are much more concerned with appearance of their righteousness than the substance of it. All of this is the basis for their question in the first place. Jesus was not going through the motions of appearance, so they thought they would use that to bring Him and his disciples down a notch.
Jesus is using this opportunity to bring the sad state of Judaism (currently lead by such as the Pharisees/Sadducees) to their attention (and the attention of those listening). He also says something to the effect that what you're seeing coming to fruition through Me and my disciples isn't a fix to what ails Judaism.
And understand that the Pharisees believed in everything they were doing and saying. They saw Jesus as a troublemaker who skirted on the edge of heresy if not crossing that line from time to time.
The old is not compatible with the new. Becoming a Christian is not becoming a subset of the Jews but a whole new life, a whole new religion, and whole new relationship with God... NOT a patch. It will take months or years for even the apostles (like Peter) to fully understand this after Christs' death and ascension.
Note that the word for "new" also has connotations of unfinished. This would apply even greater meaning to this parable. The gospel and kingdom of Christ at the moment this parable is delivered is a work in progress. Something new and unfinished is incompatible with something old and damaged. The unfinished New Covenant is incompatible with the Old Covenant.
Jesus makes the same point of incompatibility again; this time with the wineskins. Wine when placed in a wineskin expanded as it fermented. Old wineskins, have gone through this process before are not as resilient to do it a second time; likely resulting in bursting.
Again, we see that the old Judaism is not the proper vehicle for the new Christianity. The two are as incompatible as grace and the law are.
Jesus says later that if we are to come into the Kingdom of God we must be born again. An aspect of that is that we must be new and pliable to His new message. If we are not, the transformation into the new will not take place.
If you have reached this point... thank you for reading my take on this parable. I hope it was informative. If you have some insight that I missed, or disagree with any of my interpretation, please share it.