Then the disciples of John *came to Him, asking, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved." (Matthew 9:14-17 NASB)
Ok, I want to tread very carefully on this passage. Please note at the very outset that I have a lot of trouble understanding this text. While one could argue that this entire Gospel of Matthew Series is a matter of my personal opinion (I would not agree that it is) I will confess that in this post I am stretching to make a connection and this is more of an opinion than a proclamation of an absolute.
It would be inappropriate to take this passage in two sections as it is clear from the context that the parable concerning the unshrunk cloth and the new wineskins are meant as explanations as to why the disciples do not fast. The text is inseparable, and to preach the parable of the wineskins and the cloth outside of the context of fasting would be dishonest. Now in the text we find that the Pharisees fast and the disciples of John fast but the Disciples of Christ do not fast at all. We also see with clarity that after Christ (the bridegroom) is taken away from them they will indeed fast. Of course mourning and fasting cannot occur in the presence of the bridegroom while they are yet together because it is to be a time of joy and not of mourning. Now Jesus gives this parable in order to explain what the results of His disciples fasting would be if indeed they fasted before His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Jesus knows full well that in the fulfillment of the Law, with the kingdom of God at hand, the ritual of fasting takes on an entirely different meaning. The disciples will fast because of the absence of the bridegroom, they will fast as a sign of their longing for the presence of Christ. They will fast as ones seek Christ, not out of religious obligation or to display righteousness, but out of honest longing for the Lord and His presence and out of honest gratitude for what He has done. Now, in light of that, it would make no sense that they would fast while in His presence if the reason for their fasting was to be His absence and gratitude for what He had done. If the ‘new’ reason for fasting is a longing for the Lord we cannot fast with the ‘new’ reason by performing the old ritual. In other words, the legalistic once or twice a week fast of the Pharisees did not reflect honest gratitude for what Christ has done, and pain of missing Christ. So you have the rough unshrunk and scratchy cloth of missing Christ along with the wine of gratitude for what He has done... you cannot sew the loss of Christ to the fabric of a ritual, or fill a wineskin of obligation with the wine of Gratitude. If you try, you will lose the wine of gratitude when the ritualistic skin cannot contain it and you will be left with nothing. And when you sew that rough new cloth of longing for Christ to the old smooth cloth of ritual the longing for Christ will be destroyed and you will be left with damaged ritual. The new fast has a new reason, and the old ritual cannot be made one with the new fast.
Again please understand that I took some liberty with this text, and I hope that I did not go too far in making it say something that it does not really say. I am open to your thoughts on the passage if you have any. Please correct me if necessary.