18Now 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?” 19Jesus 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. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
21“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. 22And 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.”
The scribes and Pharisees have challenged Jesus about telling the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, and about eating with sinners and tax collectors at Levi’s house. The challenge continues – the question now was, why were Jesus’ disciples not fasting, as were the disciples of the Pharisees and even those of John the Baptist? The fast was a time of preparation for holy days or celebrations, and among followers of John the Baptist, a time of repentance. But Jesus replies that no one fasts while the bride groom is with them – in other words, it is not a time of preparation, it is a time of celebration; it is not a time for repentance, it is a time for action. There would be plenty of time for fasting, in grief, when the “Bride-groom”, the Messiah, had gone.
Jesus goes on to challenge the rituals established by the Pharisees – fast days, Sabbath regulations, whom one could eat with, food limitations, and so on. While some of these rules had been a part of the Levitical regulations, the Pharisees had “interpreted” them, adding their own limits and regulations. But God was doing a new thing among them – it was not a patch of new to be sewn on an old garment of ritual – if one did that the new patch would shrink and tear the garment when it was washed. Nor was this a new wine to be poured into old wine skins – the skins of the old religion were not elastic, and would not accommodate the expansion of the new things God was doing. This was an entirely new thing – and because of it these Pharisees and the religious powers in Jerusalem would have Jesus killed.