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?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again and again Jesus has already shown how different He is than the Messiah the Jews were expecting. He doesn’t expect His followers to fast while He is with them. I think this is at least partly because fasting was often a process of grief, and as Jesus pointed out, the aught to be celebrating while He is on earth! They will fast later when I am gone, He says.
But the bit about the clothing patch and wineskins is relevant too. It seems that the old wineskin and old cloak represent the Jews’ old traditions, like fasting. The new wine and un-shrunk patch represent the new covenant and spirituality through Christ. Essentially, there is no room in your heart/mind if you’re only worried about doing your traditions, especially if you are doing so for the sake of appearances. The Pharisees had led the Jews to a culture in which doing stuff that wasn’t even a part of the Law, just for the sake of doing it, had become more important than following the spirit and will of God. They had a check-list almost, and if you followed it you were righteous, and if you didn’t you were shunned. And this check-list contained things that weren’t even part of the Law! This culture of check-listing actually keeps people from growing closer to God. That’s why Jesus wasn’t worried about whether the disciples fasted or not. They were growing closer to God just by being with Jesus and learning from Him. They didn’t need some check-list to distract them from that! The culture needs to change, Jesus says, or it won’t work with the new covenant. We need new wineskins to hold this new wine.
Again, people were surprised when Jesus’s disciples picked grain on the Sabbath. Jesus makes two points about this. First, David broke tradition when he was hungry. Basically, it’s more important for the disciples to eat than the stick to some old, pointless tradition. Second, the Sabbath isn’t for the sake of people, it’s for the sake of God. Why does it matter what we do, so long as we bring praise to God? It doesn’t! If you need to work to eat on the Sabbath, do it, so long as you are working to bring glory to God and are praising Him. Isn’t that more important than some tradition of rest?
I think we should keep this story in mind the next time we hear of Christians missing church because they have to work. I’m not saying everyone gives these people a hard time, but I have definitely heard other Christians criticizing them, telling them to get another job, asking how they could possibly REALLY be a Christian if they are willing to work on Sunday. Is that what Jesus did? Instead of criticizing them, let’s figure out what we as the Church can do so they cans still have the opportunity to worship! Many churches offer services on Saturday, on Sunday night, or even sometime during the week, like Wednesday night. My church will go and give communion to those who had to miss church. Some churches pod-cast their services so you can watch them when you are able. Some churches offer sun-rise services that end long before the work day begins. And I’m sure there are plenty of ideas that I’m not clever enough to come up with. But I KNOW, having been a person who had to work on Sunday throughout my life, that these people appreciate such efforts, and if you give them the opportunity, most of them will come.