Matthew 9:14–17: New Wine in Fresh Wineskins

by Dec 19, 2022Premium, The Gospel of Matthew0 comments

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Right in the middle of a series of stories where Jesus is asserting his authority through cleansing, healings, miracles, and calling disciples, the disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus a question. Why don’t Jesus and his disciples follow the same fixed patterns of fasting twice per week that they and the Pharisees practice (v. 14)? Although this is not one of the main cycles of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes their question seriously and teaches them something profound about how different he is from the religious disciplines they have observed thus far. Here, we learn that Jesus has authority to command worship in spirit and truth.

Discussion Questions

1. What has Jesus already taught us about fasting in this Gospel (Matt. 6:16–18)? How might this question of John’s disciples connect with Jesus’ feast with tax collectors and sinners in the previous passage (Matt. 9:10–13)? What kind of fasting, then, do the disciples of John and the Pharisees practice (see Luke 18:2)? How does this question relate to the subject of religious formalism? What is religious formalism, and where might we find it today?

2. Why does Jesus first explain that his disciples cannot “mourn” (v. 15)? In what sense is Jesus the bridegroom? What does he mean when he speaks of “wedding guests”? When will the bridegroom be “taken away” from the disciples? How does Jesus differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate times for mourning? Why does Jesus insist that fasting should arise from genuine mourning, and not from set schedules for these forms?

3. In Jesus’ second explanation, what does Jesus mean by the symbolism of the unshrunk cloth (v. 16)? What is the old garment? In what way will Jesus’ newness tear apart the old garment of old covenant external formalism? What makes Jesus so different from what Old Testament believers had before his arrival? How does Jesus force the abrogation of all the outward glory of the old covenant?

4. How is Jesus’ third explanation similar to the second explanation (v. 17)? How does Jesus’ third explanation go beyond what the second explanation warned? Why do our attempts to mix the pure, new covenant worship of spirit and truth, with old covenant formalism, only serve to ruin both? Why can’t we augment the simplicity of word and sacrament with other forms of worship that we feel might be helpful? What does Jesus really want from us in worship?