The Question about Fasting (Luke 5:32-39)

The Question about Fasting

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.”

34 Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

35 But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.”

36 And he also told them a parable. “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.

37 Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.

38 Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.

39 [And] no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”


Spiritual – Feasting and Fasting to Grow Closer to Christ

For the first century Jew, as is also the case with us, fasting is a self-imposed discipline meant to deepen our spiritual life.  When we fast, we are typically reminded of our mortality and focus on our penitential character.  That is, we seek to become acutely aware of our need to repent.  This in turn draws us to focus on God’s grace and the price Jesus has paid for our sins.  The relatively small self-sacrifice of our fasting connects us more intimately to the sacrifice Jesus offered for our sins.

In verse 34, Jesus is in no way condemning fasting. In fact, verse 35 makes it clear that his disciples will fast.  Also, in His Sermon on the Mount, he gives instructions about fasting saying “when you fast”, not “if you fast” (Mt 6:16).

If we take his words to heart, Jesus is teaching us about the importance of feasting.  Not only can we fast to grow in our spiritual life, but we can also feast in the Lord.  When we “feast” we do not steep in our sinfulness, but instead we are drawn to His victory and the Glory that Jesus gained for us.  For instance, we typically fast during Lent.  However, every Sunday is a feast day.  So, on Sundays during Lent we should feast, not fast.  That doesn’t mean that we just take a day off from our fast and become gluttons.  Instead, what it means is that the feast replaces the fast; we can partake as we please, but in so doing we should focus on the great triumph and glorious gift that Jesus gained for us.

Spiritual – A New Covenant

Jesus answers the question about fasting by indicating that this is a time for feasting, not fasting.  But why?  What’s the occasion for the feast?  Quite simply, the occasion is that Jesus Himself is here.   The Jews don’t know it yet, but Jesus’ coming marks the beginning of the fulfillment of the New Covenant that God had first promised in Jerimiah 31:31-34.

Jesus elaborates on the new covenant by giving some “new” vs. “old” comparisons.  You see, the Old Covenant was a promise of blessing (or curse if you broke it) so that the Israelites could be a light to nations and reveal the glory of the one true God.  However, the New Covenant does what the old covenant could never achieve.  Not only are we saved by the New Covenant, but that salvation is superabundant.  Under the new covenant we become members of the Body of Christ and therefore, heirs with Christ; we partake of the Divine Nature.

Someone might be tempted to say “why make a new covenant?  Why not just revise, or update the old covenant?”  In verse 36 He gives us an analogy that tells us if we try to “patch up” the Old Covenant with pieces of what the New Covenant promises, then it would “damage” the New Covenant. (Ok, so how can you “damage” a covenant?  Just go with it; it’s an analogy).  Furthermore, the “patch” is incompatible with the Old Covenant, so not only would the New Covenant be “harmed”, but the patch would pull away from, not adhere to, the Old Covenant.

The analogy with wineskins tells us the same thing.  The Old Covenant can’t just have the New Covenant graces “poured” into it.  Both the New Covenant and the Old Covenant will be lost.  (What is a wineskin?  Animal skins used to be sewn into watertight bladders; these were used to hold wine for long term storage.)

In verse 39 Jesus warns us that some people who have lived under the Old Covenant will reject the New Covenant.  What they already have, that is a covenant of blessing, seems good to them (and it is).  So some will think that they have no need of a New Covenant.

In response to this reading we should pray in thanksgiving to God for the many graces he has granted through Jesus.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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