LET THE WINE BREATHE
Gracious God, help me to come to you and examine my priorities in the light of all you say about the future.
Read MATTHEW 9:14–17
Jesus Questioned About Fasting
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Breathe on me, Breath of God; / fill me with life anew.’1
Did Jesus rule out fasting by his disciples (v 14)? Apparently not, as he has already given them guidance in how to fast.2 Perhaps John’s disciples are referring to a particular regular ritual of fasting that Jesus’ disciples did not adopt.3 Jesus implies that when he is crucified his disciples will mourn (v 15), but before then – and, for all Christians, following Jesus’ resurrection – it is a time of rejoicing! There will be times when it is appropriate for us to fast and seek God, as we await the full inauguration of his kingdom and mourn for a broken world, but Jesus’ words encourage us always to come back to a place of joy: Christ is alive and has invited us to feast with him.
In this context, Jesus’ references to garments and wine appear to imply that the kingdom he is launching is so new and fresh that all the traditions and customs that have gone before cannot hold it. He is not encouraging the wholesale rejection of the Jewish Law: he has come to fulfill, not abolish, the Law and the Prophets.4 Rather, he implies that his followers should resist manipulating the gospel to fit into particular rituals or traditions.
Two thousand years on, we can fall into the trap of treating this new wine as having aged. Vintage wine is very nice, but it’s no longer fermenting with energy and creativity. Likewise, it’s easy to carry on with faith practices and formulas of speech that might once have been fresh and gospel-driven but have now become merely comfortable. The good news, however, is ever new! Let us resist the temptation to prioritize our particular forms of faith culture over the freedom of the gospel to shock and offend and blow the Spirit into manicured lives.
Pray that you may know afresh ‘his incomparably great power for us who believe’.5
Loving God, often I feel comfortable with the old ways of worship and witness. Keep me fresh in the Spirit, attuned to helpful new ways to share your love.
1 Edwin Hatch, 1835–89 2 Matt 6:16–18 3 Nolland, Matthew, p390 4 Matt 5:17 5 Eph 1:18,19