Weddings and Wineskins
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus faces an uphill battle in the work of shifting the way people view their lives in God’s Kingdom. He is up against an ancient system of man-made laws and rules for righteousness. Now He’s pressed by the Pharisees regarding those rules because, of course, Jesus isn’t making His Disciples adhere to those rules. In order to help teach them, He uses two different illustrations – a wedding and a wineskin.
First Jesus points to the wedding practices of the day. When the wedding finally happens, it is not the time for sorrowful actions. It’s party time! Jesus, as the Groom, is here! It’s not a time for fasting and sorrow. Instead it is a time for feasting. Those hearing what He says probably don’t get the illustration, but that does not invalidate the point. Then he moves on to the comparing Himself to New Wine. Everyone knew that you never put new wine into an old wineskin. As the new wine expanded (as apparently new wine is wont to do) it would burst, destroying the wineskin and wasting the wine. The old laws established by the Pharisees were the old wineskin. Jesus comes to bring an entirely new way of living in God’s Kingdom. The old is gone and it’s time to embrace something new.
If you’ve been around for very long, you already know that people are slow to accept something new. We prefer things the way they used to be because that is where our comfort level is found. Jesus came to do away with those comfortable old ways. His teaching on God’s Kingdom was truly radical and tipped everything on its head. We, who live between the incarnation and the Second Coming of our Lord have a relationship to His Second Coming that is highly similar to the relationship that the Old Testament people of God had to what we now characterize as our Lord’s first coming. We all wait – sometimes patiently, sometimes not.
As Jesus allows His Disciples to glean grain on the Sabbath because they needed food, He is breaking down the barriers that the old ways had erected. It’s time to embrace a new way but the Pharisees are unwilling.
The Pharisees’ focus, it must be noted, is firmly on the Sabbath law, for they criticize the disciples for disobedience to the strictures of Sabbath regulations. But in so doing, they betray an understanding that the Sabbath is supreme and that, therefore, man is subject to the Sabbath in the ordering of creation. Jesus, as we see him in this text, changes the entire orientation. He speaks not of regulations but of relationships, the relationship between man and the created order. In this specific case, he speaks not of Sabbath laws, but of the Sabbath day itself and its relation to man. And the consequences are enormous. In taking this approach he relativizes completely the place of the Mosaic Law and of the traditions related to it in the lives of God’s people. Put another way, in taking this approach, he reorients God’s people to God’s foundational creative will, as that will precedes and underlies the more narrow/restrictive expression of it within the Law, a reorientation that is, then, according to our Lord, to inform the beliefs and activities of God’s believing, faithful people.
Voelz, J. W. (2013). Concordia Commentary: Mark 1:1–8:26. (pp. 222–223). St. Louis, MO: CPH.
While we wait for Jesus to return, we can embrace the teaching of this passage by training our focus on the Lord, seeking His direction for our lives and leaning not on “our own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)