Mark 2:16-22 “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast but yours don’t?” Jesus said, “Can the wedding guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? Of course not. They will fast when the time comes that the bridegroom will be taken away from them. No one sews a new patch on an old garment. If so, the patch tears away and rips the old garment. The same goes for new wine in old wineskins. The new wine will be ruined, as well as the skins. Fresh wine is for fresh skins.” (paraphrased ESV)
The issue: Jesus’ disciples aren’t fasting. Why not?
The three responses Jesus gives: 1. A wedding celebration for the groom. 2. Repairing clothes. And, 3. Fresh wine.
Let’s start with the wedding celebration for the groom. How many of us have been to a wedding where everyone was in a serious or solemn state of mind, not happy and not celebrating, but almost as if they were attending a funeral? My apologies if you have been to something like this. This is not the way a wedding is supposed to be! Joy, Happiness, Celebration, Elation!! Jesus is doing something new in the world and it’s a call for celebration. Jesus has come to bring forgiveness of sins and new life and joy. He’s come to bring the world a positive future, hope. So why were people appalled by this behavior, of watching his disciples ignore traditional fasting? The times when Israel fasted may have been typically somber affairs like New York remembers 9/11, or Memorial Day. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln throwing a party at Gettysburg, where 23000 soldiers lost their lives in one day? It would be quite offensive don’t you think? Israel fasted because of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar or because of past national disasters. So, Jesus isn’t fasting with the disciples. Instead, they are acting as if it’s a time to celebrate. Jesus is inaugurating a new era for Israel. This new era will usher in unfathomable hope for the future. Jesus has come to rescue Israel as God would rescue her, a lost fiancee, and then celebrate the coming union. Why would Jesus’ want any of his disciples to look to Israel’s tragic past when the future of Israel is standing right in front of them?
The second image has to do with the idea of repairing clothing. Perhaps a more effective way for us to grasp this is by imagining old paint on a wall. Imagine a child scribbling all over this wall, which was originally painted red. Imagine the scribbling being done with a black Sharpie! The wall is nearly forty years old and it hasn’t had a fresh coat of paint since it was constructed. We could just paint over each section of the toddler’s artwork but we then realize this won’t be wise. The new paint color won’t match the old! What should we do? Ugggh! We’re going to have to paint the entire wall and the walls around this one to get the color to match. And of course, we need to hide the sharpies! This is what Jesus is saying about repairing clothing. The new cloth won’t work on old faded clothing, like jeans or a sweater. A new patch just won’t match. The meaning is that Jesus isn’t interested in mixing His fresh kingdom movement with the Israel that’s fading away, like an old pair of jeans, or in the prior illustration, walls where the paint has faded and now must be completely repainted. Israel’s fasting looks backward to a time of loss and exile. Jesus’ kingdom movement looks to a future filled with hope. These two things just don’t mix.
The third image has to do with new wine being placed into old wineskins. We know that wineskins expand with wine that is first put into them because the wine ferments and stretches them as far as they can go. Winemakers knew that too much fermentation would burst even the new skins so some of the fermentation process, a process that creates a gas, was allowed to escape prior to inserting wine into the skins. The wine would ferment a little more but not enough to ruin the skins. Here, Jesus is talking about fresh wine being put into skins that have already been used. This is something like putting Mentos in a 2-liter full of Diet Coke. Thanks to YouTube we all know what will happen. The plastic bottle becomes a cannon for the volatile combination and everything inside will burst out. Jesus is saying that his teaching is not going to fit into Israel’s current thinking in regard to the true Messianic mission. Israel is set in its ways and cannot handle the truth of the kingdom message (at least not yet). No one in Israel is expecting the way Jesus will launch God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus must be killed and rise from the dead. That teaching was and still is like a bunch of Mentos heading straight into a 2-liter of Diet Coke. It’s explosive. The only way to contain that kind of teaching then and now is to put it into a new context. If we have beliefs about Jesus’ mission that aren’t true then the truths about Jesus and his mission could prove to be explosive. When we learn about the good news of Jesus and what he accomplished, our only response is to become a new creation, one that is able to contain the revolutionary truths about the kingdom of God. Initially, we need to die to sin with Jesus in baptism through Jesus’ revolutionary death (Romans 6:1ff). We’re all commanded to be born again, born anew (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38; Matthew 28:16-20). Israelites of old, and we, today, also have to become a new wineskin, something suitable for the expansion of Jesus’ revolutionary kingdom message!
Do you know of anyone questioning why some of us aren’t fasting, why we aren’t reaffirming and repeating some traditions or traditional ways of thinking?