I don’t know how many times I have either read or heard this chapter. Hundreds of times, I’m sure.
And you know how you can hear something, and understand the words just fine, but not really understand? Well as I looked again at this chapter, specifically verses 14-17, all of a sudden I said to myself, “Wait. What?”
Let me read it to you again: 14Then John’s disciples came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”
15Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made. 17Neither do people put new wine into old wine skins, or else the skins would burst, and the wine be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wine skins, and both are preserved.”
Ok, I got the part about John the Baptist’s disciples asking why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast, and Jesus’ answer that the friends of the bridegroom don’t mourn while he is with them. But what in the world do new patches on old fabric, and new wine in old wineskins have to do with any of this? And why have I never noticed this before?
Well, the last answer is easy. Sometimes I tend to be dense. 🙂
Ok. Here’s what is going on here.
John’s disciples had been with John for some time. And it was appropriate for them to fast and even mourn because John was at that time in a Roman prison. And did you notice that when John’s disciples asked the question, they also included the Pharisees in the “we fast” group? The Pharisees fasted because they liked to show how religious they were. They made a show of it.
Side note: Jesus had instructed His disciples that when they did fast, they were to do so in secret, so as not to make a show out of it. He didn’t want them to try to look religious like the scribes and the Pharisees did.
Ok. Back to my main point. Jesus’ disciples were still new. They didn’t have the benefit of much training yet, and they had not yet had much experience that would strengthen their spiritual muscles. So asking them to fast more than the regularly observed Jewish fasts was more than they were yet prepared for. It would be like putting a new patch on old fabric or new wine into old wineskins. It would cause them damage.
Jesus challenges us when we are ready. He does challenge us, but not to the point of destroying us. Sometimes we are right on the brink, but never over, if we hold fast to Him.