33 Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ 36He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’*
Still in the setting, or aftermath, of the banquet that Levi gave for Jesus, and which Jesus attended with all Levi’s “sinner” friends, the Pharisees continue to question – now they direct their question at Jesus. Essentially, they are saying that Jesus’ disciples aren’t as good, or as righteous, as their own disciples, who frequently fast and pray; Pharisees boasted of fasting twice a week. Why, even John’s disciples fast and pray! Why do Jesus’ disciples eat and drink? (Implied, of course, is the reference to their even eating and drinking with sinners!) Over and over these antagonists challenge Jesus, throughout the gospel. But he never falls for their bait – in this case he says, the wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them! When the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast. Jesus is making an audacious claim here – he is the bridegroom, the one for whom they have been waiting.
The next two parables explain this further, but are difficult. A parable in this instance is an analogy – it is like this. The new life in the age / kingdom already begun by Jesus cannot be just attached to or poured into something old. Fabric of an old garment is unchanging, fixed in form and size; a new fabric, however, is still dynamic, changing, will shrink when washed. If one were to tear up a new garment in order to patch an old one, the new fabric would tear away. Old wineskins were hard, fixed containers; new wine, still fermenting, still changing, required flexible containers. Fred Craddock (Interpretation Commentary: Luke) says it this way, “Now cloth and new skins are alive, changing, not fixed in form or size, and therefore are not to be treated as thought they were dead and unchanging.” The Kingdom of God initiated by Jesus would not fit into the old forms of religion – something new was happening! Still, Jesus recognized, that there would be those who would not want the new kingdom; they were happy with the old. Change is difficult for us all; we prefer, like the Pharisees, to remain in our comfortable ways. But the Kingdom of God is a dynamic; it is new each day!