Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39
The next scene Mark jumps to is one in which we find both John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasting, while Jesus and His disciples are going on as normal. Curious about this, one of John’s disciples asks about it; why aren’t you fasting? There is a fairly clear implication that they should be, at least in this man’s mind, but Jesus doesn’t think so.
Jesus gives the man three answers to one question, beginning in verse 19. Likening Himself to a bridegroom, and His disciples to guests of the bridegroom, Jesus indicates to the man that fasting is not appropriate at that current time, for they are in a mood of celebration, yet the day will come when the bridegroom is no longer with His guests, and they will have occasion to fast then.
The second and third answers to the question begin at verse 21:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
In essence, Jesus gives two short parables that are designed to draw a profound distinction between the ministry of John, the Law and the ministry and purpose of Christ. John’s ministry was limited to prepare the way for Jesus, it was really a transitional ministry, under the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, had an entirely different purpose, for His was the purpose of fulfilling the Law and ushering in an entirely new order; the New Covenant. There was nothing about the ministry of Jesus that would serve to patch the old garment of the Law, He was not there to refill an old wineskin; the old garment and the old wineskin had served their purpose and Jesus would replace them both.
There would be no fasting! The Kingdom was at hand in the Person of Jesus Himself. While He was on the scene, fasting was not appropriate.
I often wonder if I harp on this point too much, the point being that the New Covenant has entirely replaced the Old. Am I simply riding a “hobby-horse”?
I think not: This is a key point in the Christian faith; the Law is over. Just as John’s ministry was transitional in nature, preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus, the Law was transitional in nature, illustrating the reality that was to come through Christ in the New Covenant; that is what Jesus is telling this man in the story, and it is the point we need to comprehend as well.