The Scriptorium

More on Fasting

If you're looking for a patch-on gospel, forget it. Matthew 9.14-17

Matthew 9: Enlarging the Harvest (3)

Pray Psalm 22.23-25.
You who fear the LORD, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel!
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard.
My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.

Sing Psalm 22.23-25.
(Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King)
All you who fear the Lord, now praise His holy Name!
You children of His glorious Word, declare His fame!
We stand in awe of our eternal God, and on His mercy call.

For He has not despised the anguish of our King,
Nor from Him hid His eyes, Who knew such suffering.
Let praise arise from all who love and serve the Ruler of the skies!

Read Matthew 9.1-17; meditate on verses 14-17.

1. What do we learn about fasting from these verses?

2. What is the “new wine” to which Jesus refers?

This is the second time Jesus has spoken to the matter of fasting (cf. Matt. 6.16-18). In this case, He answered a query from the disciples of John the Baptist, who wanted to know why His disciples did not fast, when both John’s disciples and the Pharisees did. Jesus’ answer is important in a number of ways.

Jesus associated fasting with mourning and longing. His disciples would fast, He explained, when He, “the bridegroom”, was taken away from them. They would fast out of sorrow, but also in anticipation of rejoicing to see Him again one day. Fasting thus is a discipline that helps us to remember our loss, since Jesus was taken away from us by suffering and death, but also by His ascension. It also trains us to look forward to the joy we will know when He finally returns to consummate His marriage with us. We should practice fasting from time to time for these reasons, keeping in mind as we do the criteria for fasting already explained in Matthew 6.

Jesus’ use of the metaphor of the new wine is curious here. He uses it to contrast old and new – the old ways of Jewish law and tradition with the new ways of the Gospel. You can’t take a little Gospel patch and affix it to someone who’s still wedded to old ways – whether the old ways of Jewish traditionalism or the old ways of a life of sin. The Gospel patch won’t mend or save the old ways, and whatever new wine manages to get into the patched-on wineskin will ultimately be lost. For the new wine of the Gospel you need a totally new wine skin – a new birth and a new creation (Jn. 3.1-16; 2 Cor. 5.17) – not a little patch-on to your old way of life.

This tells us a little about how the disciples of John and the Pharisees regarded fasting. It was part of their old wineskins – their old traditions, by which they sought to make themselves acceptable to God (cf. Lk. 18.9-12).  Fasting was for them a kind of patch to renew their supposed righteousness and keep their old wineskins working. But all that has to be left behind to follow Jesus in the Kingdom of God. New wine – the Gospel – needs a new wineskin – new life in the Kingdom. Fasting continues, but with a different focus and application – not to save us, but to remember Jesus’ suffering and our salvation, and to help us look forward to and prepare for His glorious return.

1. Jesus indicates we should be fasting during this time we are separated from Him. How should we do that?

2. How is the new life we have in Jesus like a new wineskin?

3. As far as the Gospel is concerned, this is a case where the “new wine” is better than the “old wine”. Explain.

What he is saying is this: Until a person has been reborn and, having put aside the old person, puts on the new person because of my passion, he cannot observe right fasting and the precepts of temperance. Otherwise, through undue austerity one may lose even the faith one seems to possess.
Jerome (347-420),Commentary on Matthew 1.9.17

Fill me with the New Wine of Your Spirit and Word, O Lord, and help me refresh others as I…

Pray Psalm 22.26-28.
Praise the Lord for His salvation, and ask Him to help you in making His Good News known to others in your Personal Mission Field.

Sing Psalm 22.26-28.
Psalm 22.26-28 (Darwall, Rejoice, the Lord is King)
The suff’ring King shall eat and praise with us the Lord.
Forever we His praise repeat and trust His Word.
Praise God above, all you who keep His vows and who His mercies love!

All nations shall repent and hasten to the Lord;
All those to whom His truth is sent shall praise His Word.
The Lord is King! His sovereign rule on high now we His people sing!

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore