Matthew 9:14-17 (ESV)
A Question About Fasting
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 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. 16 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. 17 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.”
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment…” (Matthew 9:16).
A businesswoman had an important meeting, so she dressed carefully in her best power suit. But not quite carefully enough. On the train to work, she looked down and saw that she was wearing two mismatched, distinctively different shoes.
Inappropriate combinations show up in today’s Gospel, too. Fasting at a wedding feast. An old cloak repaired with a fabric patch that hasn’t been preshrunk. New wine in brittle leather wineskins that explode as fermentation proceeds.
Jesus used these images to highlight the radical newness of his mission. His good news of “God with us” changed everything. Because God had become flesh, the religious forms that God had given Israel were no longer enough to contain his presence. Like the old cloth and wineskin, the old traditions became inadequate. God was doing something new: not just patching up his creation but totally transforming it, and in a way that requires our wholehearted presence.
So what do these images mean for us? Here are two ways to reflect on their practical implications.
Sometimes you have to leave good things behind. When James and John chose to follow Jesus, they left their father sitting alone in the family boat (Matthew 4:21-22). They couldn’t be both fishers of men and fishers of fish. Something to ponder, if you’re facing a major life change. Or perhaps the Lord is inviting you to begin some new activity or responsibility. Can you accept without relinquishing some of the good things you’re already doing? Maybe not. You can’t always have it all – not without coming apart at the seems.
Always, leave behind the bad. Behaviors that violate the commandments are never compatible with Jesus’ new way of living. Just a little gossip, porn, or shoplifting? Never! Your only option is to declare all-out war on these sins and never make peace with them – even if you fall seven times a day. As you resist, you will receive grace to “put away the old self of your former way life” and “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
Jesus, help me welcome the new things that you want to do in me. Amen.