Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine should be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’”
The Pharisees continue to criticize Jesus for his religious beliefs and actions. They notice that he and his disciples do not fast as other devout Jewish disciples do. We know that Jesus fasted at least once and speaks about fasting in some of his sermons, but here he does not defend the practice. If he sinlessly followed the Law, then he also fasted yearly on the Day of Atonement. Aside from the yearly fast days, many religious leaders would also fast every Monday and Thursday and would whiten their faces with ash so everyone could see that they were fasting. Jesus did not observe the extra laws added through the years. He explains that fasting is consistent with someone in mourning, but his disciples realized that they were not in a state of loss. Rather they had gained a friend and bridegroom. Sorrow would come to them later after the work of Jesus was complete.
We have all experienced how clothes shrink over time, especially the first time they are dried. If you patch torn clothes with new cloth, the new cloth will shrink while the old garment does not - causing the patch to tear away and make an even bigger hole. Also it would be foolish to rip a new garment simply to mend an old one. New wine expands as it ferments, and it stretches the skin into which it is placed. A wineskin could be used several times before it lost its elasticity. Eventually, however, the skin would lose its ability to flex and would no longer be suitable for making wine. If new wine was placed into it, the wineskin would burst as the new wine expanded. And connoisseurs of wine prefer aged wine with more flavor.
So what does this parable mean? For one thing, Jesus was bring a new take on Jewish theology. Many of his listeners were too set in their ways to consider and understand it. They could not stretch and therefore lost the meanings of his teachings, like new wine spilling from a burst wineskin. Those listening had a choice. They could follow the old establishment with its comfort and tradition, or they could follow Jesus although the road would lead to the cross.
Jesus was starting something fresh and new, based on grace and truth. His new movement was incompatible with the legalistic emphasis many religious leaders of his day placed on the on the law. But this does not mean the Old Testament or all traditions should be tossed by the wayside. Old garments were not tossed away in this time period. They would be worn as long as possible and then used to patch other old garments. Old wineskins were waterproofed with pitch or tar and used to transport anything (except new wine). Jesus taught a new way of making disciples that did not fit with tradition, but that did not mean all the old ways were worthless.
Remembering that Jesus told this parable in response to the question about fasting, we can surmise that Jesus may have been condemning the extra regulations and traditions added on through the centuries rather than the perfect law of God. Jesus invites all people, including the Pharisees, to join Him in this new way of following the Torah. However, he knows that people generally prefer their old traditions and are uncomfortable trying something new. Even today we can get caught up in traditions and forsake living in the presence of Jesus. We must guard ourselves from going through the motions of religion and must instead strive to be dedicated learners with a desire to understand and obey the teachings of Christ.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. - Romans 14:17-18