After that He went out and looked at a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and got up and began following Him.
And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling to His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.”
And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the groom fast while the groom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the groom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the patch from the new garment will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wants new; for he says, ‘The old is fine.’” (NASB)
What we see in today’s passage is Jesus calling Levi/Matthew and his reaction to being called by Jesus. But more importantly we see the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, to the events that happened after Matthew’s call. For see Matthew threw a big party and invited all his friends over, but he also invited Jesus and his disciples over too. And wouldn’t you know Jesus and his disciples actually came. And the scribes and the Pharisees responded to this by asking why Jesus and his disciples were hanging out with these sinners when they should be fasting, mourning and praying like their man-made religion taught and that is what we will be discussing over the next several minutes: Jesus or man-made traditions.
The scribes and the Pharisees were offended at the behavior of Jesus’ disciples as compared to their own disciples and those of John the Baptist, because they did not fast as their man-made religion said that they should. It is important to note here that Jesus was not opposed to fasting, for the right reason, but he also allowed his disciples to attend banquets, like the one that Matthew gave. This was in stark contrast to the Pharisees’ rigid schedule of fasting. They fasted twice weekly, on the Day of Atonement, four times a year to remember the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, plus any other time is was deemed appropriate. And all of this fasting by the Pharisees was only done to show how “religious” they were.
The Pharisees here were implying that Jesus and disciples lacked “religion” and Jesus responded to this misguided belief in this way: “You cannot make the attendants of the groom fast while the groom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the groom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5:34-35 NASB) Jesus applied the issue of fasting to a wedding as if he were the groom, because it was not appropriate to fast during the joy of the wedding or before the Devine groom was taken away, or in other words before the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.
Jesus goes on to hammer this point home with two parables that are found in Luke 5:36-39, which say:
And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the patch from the new garment will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wants new; for he says, ‘The old is fine.’” (NASB)
The first of Jesus’ two parables applied the principle that you cannot patch an old garment with new cloth. The old will tear the new and it won’t match the old. And on the heels of the controversy about fasting, Jesus illustrated the point that his message was radical (the new) and could not serve as a patch for the existing form of Judaism (the old).
Jesus’ second parable initially made the same point as the first, but proceeded further. New (not fully fermented) wine cannot be put into old wineskins because it will burst and ruin them. New wine (the message of Jesus) must be put into fresh or new wineskins (the church of Jesus Christ). But there was a natural reason why many of Jesus’ hearers continued to cling to Judaism: old (properly fermented and aged) wine (the established traditions of Judaism) tasted better or is more familiar and comfortable.
To end this we are going to talk about this idea the “old is better.” The word that is translated here as “better” may be more literally translated as “suitable,” with the meaning that it is “good enough.” The point is that when people become comfortable with what they have, they do not desire something better. Many of the Jews and their leaders rejected the “new wine” of Christ message because they that the “old wine” (the traditions of first-century Judaism) was good enough.
Jesus uses the wine metaphor by suggesting that those who are accustomed to drinking fermented wine acquire a desire for it and do not want unfermented wine. He recognized the habit-forming, addictive effect of alcoholic beverages. It is not Jesus, but rather the one drinking the “old wine,” who thinks “the old is better.” But literal wine is not the issue here. Jesus was describing the resistance of some people to change their religious traditions and accept the way God and his Son, Christ Jesus, desire for us to live.
We must not interpret this verse to mean that the “old wine” (man-made religious beliefs and traditions) is better than the “new wine” (the message of forgiveness and new life through faith in Christ). This is the opposite of what the parable teaches. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have settled for less than God’s desire for them. And by doing so, the Pharisees and their followers will not ever recognize the truth and benefits of the new way because they feel “the old” is good enough, when only the “new wine” (the life giving message of Christ) would and will bring the salvation that all of humankind needs.
The Pharisees completely overlooked the true purpose of God’s law and how it is fulfilled through Christ and his message. They were refusing to accept the fresh revelation of God and insisted upon holding on to traditions altered message. Yet those who receive Jesus and his fresh, new message find that it is better than their old sinful way of life.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Deuteronomy 2-3, Luke 6:12-38, Psalm 67:1-7 and Proverbs 11:27
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