In Luke 5:33-39, Jesus is asked about fasting and specifically why He and His disciples don't fast, while the Pharisees and even John the Baptist and his disciples do. Jesus's response comes in the form of three illustrations. They are parables in themselves because they provide a familiar story that we can relate to, meanwhile 'casting alongside' an abstract truth. In this case, the truth is about why Jesus has come and how He has come to fulfil the law and bring in a new covenant with God's people.
The first is an image of a wedding. A joyous and happy day in any culture, but in the 1st century, this week-long feast took precedent over even religious rituals. And this is Jesus's point. ceremonial observation detracts from the joy of the wedding and is therefore not required. Jesus is with His disciples, this is a thing to be happy about. In fact, the Pharisees probably thought that Jesus was too happy. The Scroll of Fasting was a document instructing the people how and when to fast, and in this, it stated that fasting was forbidden on specific days that were devoted to joyous celebration. It is this mindset, this thinking, that Jesus shows us. Jesus is among them now and this is a time of joy, not a time of fasting. However, this time will come when Jesus is 'taken away' (crucified).
Jesus then builds on this idea two-fold. First with cloth and clothing, and then with wine and wineskins.
By patching an old garment with new material from another garment it does two things. First, it disfigured the new garment, by cutting a great big hole in it. But what it also does is it destroys the old garment. It does this because the old garment has been washed and has shrunk. The new material however hasn't. Once attached and washed, it does shrink and pull and ruins the old garment even more than before.
The idea behind the new wine into old wineskins is similar. New wine continues to ferment, and in doing so, expands. Wineskins meanwhile are made from tanned goat's skins and when new wine is added to new skins, the wine and the skin expand together. If the new wine is added to old, that is already expanded, skins the skin is unable to expand further and bursts.
Both these illustrations tell us that you can't add the new to the old, without ruining both. They don't mix very well. Now, if we think of the abstract truth, we see Jesus is talking about the old covenant (the Law) and the new covenant (Grace). Ritualism performed by attempting to keep the Law doesn't mix with the spiritual freedom offered through the law of Grace that is brought in through the life and the death of Jesus.
Jesus uses fasting as a way to show this. The Pharisees and even John the Baptist represent the old covenant. John is preaching of the coming Messiah to the people of Isreal and that the kingdom is near. The Law and the Prophets point to the coming Messiah. But through Jesus this is fulfilled. God's promise has been completed. The best way to explain it is like an acorn. The acorn has a purpose in life. That purpose is to become an Oak tree. When it becomes an Oak tree you no longer have the acorn. The acorn precedes, and points to, what is to come.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
We can't live up to the Law, and the Law shows us this. The Pharisees were self-righteous and believed they could be justified (be found not guilty) because of what they achieved. Yet we are all sinners. We need something else. We need a saviour. We need Jesus Christ.
It is His grace that is poured out over us, through His death and the forgiveness of our sins. Think of a mountain ridge. On one side is the Mosaic Law (God's Law given to Moses and the Israelites). On the other, grace, forgiveness, and love. As Christians, we walk this ridge daily. On one hand, we strive to obey and follow the law, on the other we know we have God's grace covering us when we do trip and falter.
It is now we turn to Luke 14:15-24. Jesus, using the parable of the Great Banquet, shows us that He asks for us to be compassionate. We find Jesus in the house of a prominent Pharisee on a Sabbath. Jesus targets the man-made rules developed to 'help' the Jews from keeping the Sabbath. They can't carry, cook, tie or untie. They can't treat people for ailments unless they are life-threatening. Jesus is faced with a man who has dropsy, which is not life-threatening. Under the Pharisee rules, Jesus can't heal him, yet He does, because He has compassion for the man, therefore disregarding the rules of the Sabbath. If we think of the mountain ridge again Jesus has crossed to the love and grace side, and away from the letter of the law. Why, because it is the heart that matters. Do we love God? Do we love others? If we stand ticking the metaphorical boxes of 'doing' the law, we miss the heart that God calls us to have. A heart of compassion. A heart that pours out for people.
Yet the Pharisees do not see this. They want to hold onto the old wine, believing it is better. The invitation to the Great Banquet has been rejected (by the Israelites) and the excuses have been received. Jesus tells us that the man sends his servants out to the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, those that have been marginalised by society. When there is still room, he sends them out again, this time to the roads and country lanes to gather who? The Gentiles. Those that are outside of the old covenant! It is those new groups that have now been invited to the Great Banquet. That can now share in the joy of Christ
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)
What is your response to Jesus's invitation?