18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" 19 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins." (Mark 2:18-22)
John Calvin abridged: Mark has both the pharisees and John's disciples speaking (whereas Luke has just the Pharisees and Matthew has just the disciples of John). It appears that the Pharisees were trying to draw John's disciples to their way of thinking. This example reminds us not to let wicked and cunning people cause divisions among us over nothing. It is Satan's delight for us to get distressed over a trifle. We should especially beware lest the unity of faith and love be broken over outward ceremonies which are often given undue importance (Gal. 4:3; Coo. 2:8). Too often we are tempted to prefer the highest perfection of outward or worldly things. This is often followed by another evil arising out of pride- wanting to compel the whole world to copy our example. If anything pleases us, we quickly want to make it a law that others may live according to our pleasure.
Christ compares himself to a bridegroom. He points out that prayers and fastings may relate to sadness. Two lessons can be learned: 1) We have no right to murmur. 2) We need to rejoice- but recognize that joy does not last forever. Christ compares his tender and weak disciples to old bottles and torn garments needing gentle care. Everyone must not be forced to live in the same way, for there is diversity of character, and all things are not suitable for all. Particularly, we ought to spare the weak that they may not be broken by violence or crushed by the weight of the burden.
Thoughts: Calvin thought the essence of this passage is that we should be sensitive and kind to each other. Most would probably say the essence lies in how does new teaching mingle with old. New wine should be put in new wineskins lest they burst. That is the Holy Spirit needs to change us so we can receive God's teaching. Another point is that religion is not all about being dour and sour- obeying rule upon rule. There is a place to rejoice. Jesus enjoyed a party- he ate and drank at Levi's house, for example. God gives us joy in life- but we just shouldn't get drunk on the joy (or the wine). But there is a time to rejoice and a time to weep (Eccles. 3). John's disciples focused on repentance, but there is more to life than repentance and escaping sin. The Christian life is a mixture of both sorrow over sin and joy in the Lord (life in general is a mixture of sorrow and joy). There was the sorrow of the cross and the joy of the resurrection for Jesus and his followers.
Prayer: Lord, in my weeping time, be near me. In my time of rejoicing, fill me with joy. Let me not be afraid of the joys and sadness of life, but embrace them with you.