By Richard Hayes, District Representative, Southwest
I want to draw your attention to Luke 5:33-39. In the context of this verse Jesus has been questioned about the practice of fasting. In response Jesus says,
“… ‘Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’’” (ESV)
Darrell Bock in Volume 1 of his commentary on Luke’s Gospel wisely observes that Jesus, in this parable, is issuing an analysis of His way versus that of tradition found in the Pharisees’ and John’s disciples. Bock writes:
“The Lucan picture has a touch of irony in it. It starts off with a piece of old cloth that needs repair. Rather than getting an appropriate piece of old cloth to mend it, a new garment is ruined. The Lucan picture is intended to come across as a little absurd. The results of the effort will even reinforce the mood. This approach to the problem will backfire. One cannot put something new on top of something old…Two results emerge for Luke: the one taking this approach tears the new cloth, and the old and new cloth do not match. The mix does not work at all…The points are clear. The ways of Jesus and the traditions of current religion, even though related to the Old Testament, cannot be mixed without significantly damaging the new entity…Jesus will make clear that there is continuity between what He offers and what God promised, but one should have no doubt that what Jesus offers is decidedly new and distinct as well.” (Bock, Vol. 1, Pp. 519-520).
It seems to me that Luke 5:33-39 is a rather timely passage and teaching for our era of church history. Muse with me for a moment and consider how often we try to put a patch of new cloth on an old garment and expect a good result.
In the context of Luke chapter 5, the practice of fasting is in view, and there are certainly different views of fasting for the church today, but this passage does seem to shed considerable light on the practice of fasting, as well as our understanding of whether there is a continuity between the Old and New Covenants, and whether or not the church is distinct from Israel. But beyond the issue of fasting in the New Testament age, is an abundance of implications for ministry.
Too often, our perspective, or the perspectives of our churches or church leaders, is more historical than visionary. Looking back to the successes of the past, rather than advancing in step with the Holy Spirit to potentially greater things in the future. In other words, our orientation is to look back to the greatness of the churches past, rather than looking forward to the greatness the Lord is yet to bring into being.
The volume of our lack of faith and spiritual rigidity is often deafening.
Missiologists Harold Dollar offers a timely and powerful insight on Luke 5:33-39. “The good news, like new wine, must be poured into new wineskins. The Gospel calls the church and individual Christians to constant renewal. The history of the church is the history of the tension between renewal and transformation and the stubborn refusal to change, regarding forms as more important than meaning.” (Dollar, St, Luke’s Missiology, P. 55).
So, we might ask ourselves several questions that flow from the musings above:
First, which one are we? The old cloth/wineskins or the new?
Perhaps a time of confession would be in order if our rigidity and narrowness has limited the new thing the Lord wants to accomplish in our lives, ministries and in our churches.
Another question that flows from the above musings comes from feedback I received from my friend and predecessor Joe Murrell, who suggested that we are, at times, not even self-aware of our own rigidity and that we need to honestly look inwardly, and honestly evaluate how patterns, traditions, and spiritual rigidity have limited our outlook and even limited how the Lord can work in our individual lives and in our ministries.
Let me exhort us all to be in step with what the Lord desires to accomplish in our lives and in His churches.