New Wine In New Skins
February 6, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. In the passage of scripture for today it has, "The people said to Jesus, 'The disciples of John fast often, they pray, and they do the same things like the disciples of the Pharisees. But, your disciples are always eating and drinking.'," (verse thirty-three). Who in the world might these "people" be, which are mentioned like this in the text!?
2. Actually, today's passage is a sequel from the one before. It isn't translated in the Japanese, but there is a phrase that hints at the continuity between texts. In saying "the people (they)," it turns out to be "the Pharisees and the scribes of the law from the same sect" who are found previously in the text. After all, going by their own words, they are the ones who often fast and make prayers.
3. People, who are consciously aware of something they are observant in, care about those who are observant in the same matters. We are told that the Pharisees were "observant" in [their] fasts, which they practiced at set times, and that they were aware of the disciples of John the Baptizer who practiced fasting in the same way. Depending on the situation, competitive spirits between them might have even reared its head.
4. On the other hand as well, those, who are consciously aware of something they are observant in, will also trouble themselves over those who are not observant. They are anxious over the disciples of Jesus always eating and drinking. These [men] are anxious over how [the disciples of Jesus] are not only having meals with tax collectors and sinners, but to begin with, they do not even care about [any of] the devout customs like fasting. Also, they become very angry when [anyone] acted in a public way that looked disrespectful or neglectful of the things they deemed important. So, they feel themselves compelled to say, "The disciples of John fast often, they pray, and they do the same things like the disciples of the Pharisees. But, your disciples are always eating and drinking."
5. How did it come about that they were always looking at others and minding other people's business this way? Understandably, [I suppose it is because] they were worried over how they might look. Those who are in the habit of looking critically at others are anxious not to be critically looked at themselves. Therefore, in their case, even though they were fasting, since they were anxious about whether or not they looked like they were fasting in the precise manner, they must make anybody looking at them to know for sure that [we Pharisees] "are fasting."
6. With that said, The Gospel According To Matthew has words from Jesus [that go] like this, "When you fast, do not make the features of your face depressed like the hypocrites. When the hypocrites try to have the people look at [their] fasting, they make their faces ugly. I say this. They have already received [their] reward," (Matthew 6:16). Presuming from these words of Jesus, they actually made gloomy faces as best as they could, and upon making faces that said, "I repent of [my] sin and I am fasting," there was not a few who found this piety of theirs appealing.
7. [What we have here is] a group of people pious in the outward appearance, a devout community, and a devout society, in which such persons had leading roles. But everybody actually does a kind of mutual surveillance of each other, everybody criticizes each other, and therefore, by observing what they are supposed to observe to the best of their ability so that they are not criticized, they wind up living overly proud in their observance [of the law and the customs]. A quite life-less and lame fellowship is formed in all that. Don't you think? However, generally speaking, it is all too easy for that type of thing to develop in the world of religion.
The Banquet Is Beginning
8. The people who were saying, "The disciples of John fast often, they pray, and they do the same things like the disciples of the Pharisees. But, your disciples are always eating and drinking." Jesus, then, spoke as follows to them, "Are you willing to make the guests at the wedding fast even though the bridegroom is there with [them]?," (verse thirty-four).
9. What is he saying by saying "the bridegroom is there with [them]?" At weddings back in that time the banquet would begin upon the arrival of the bridegroom, (Matthew 25:1ff). To say that "the bridegroom is there with [them]" is to say that the bridegroom has already arrived and the wedding banquet has already gotten underway. This bridegroom clearly stands for Jesus himself. The bridegroom by the name of the Christ has already come into this world. Therefore, the banquet has indeed already started. Jesus was making a declarative statement with this kind of image.
10. What is the meaning behind a wedding banquet that has already gotten underway? What was Jesus wanting to say with that? So, what scene, for which this was spoken, must we recall? I mentioned that this story is a sequel to what was written before it. The story written before it is the one about the tax collector named Levi who became a disciple.
11. Levi threw a sumptuous banquet at his home for Jesus. The scripture says, "A crowd of tax collectors and other persons were there, and they were seated together," (verse twenty-nine). The Pharisees saw it and said, "Why are you always eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" Then Jesus said the following. "It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but to call sinners unto repentance," (verses thirty-one and thirty-two).
12. Jesus called sinners and had meals with them. He did that taking into account that he would repeatedly be criticized by the devout in society. "Why?," I wonder. It's because God's banquet has already begun. These meals in which he invited sinners show most clearly of all what the banquet which has already begun is. What began with the coming of Jesus is the banquet in which the messiah calls sinner. They were invited and gathered together but not so that they would be condemned and destroyed, but rather so that they would turn to God, be forgiven of [their] sins and be saved. It says to turn to God [is] "repentance." That's what "to call sinners unto repentance" means. It is a banquet in which Jesus calls [us] to give [us a chance] to turn to God.
13. It is a banquet in which anybody can go back to God no matter how great the burden of the debt of sin he or she is under. It is a banquet in which a person can return to God no matter how much he or she has rebelled and rebelled and been in a continuous state of rebellion even to this very moment. It is a banquet in which a person can be accepted by God, even though the person is disgusted with himself or herself and doesn't know what to do with oneself. There is forgiveness there. There is salvation. They can be ushered into complete salvation. That kind of banquet is underway. It has begun with the coming of Jesus.
14. Everyone of us, including you, are invited to this same banquet. We're invited to the banquet which began with the arrival of Jesus. Our being assembled as we are now is a physical and visible sign of this. Since it's a banquet, it is appropriate, first of all, for us to enjoy ourselves in it all together. We are to enjoy and rejoice in God's grace together. We are to rejoice together over our being forgiven by God, our being loved, and our having turned to God because we have received forgiveness of sin. This is what the church is all about. The most important thing to do in church is to enjoy and rejoice together over God's grace because it is a banquet. There is no room for anything like a formal fast which only attracts a pious devotion. The Lord says, "Are you willing to make the guests at the wedding fast even though the bridegroom is there with [them]?"
That Invitation Through The Christ On The Cross
15. But, a bit more is added to [his] words. The Lord went on to say, "But the time is coming when the bridegroom will be snatched away. At that time, they are supposed to fast," (verse thirty-five). The message from the Lord that "The time is coming when the bridegroom will be snatched away" is clear in that it points directly to when Christ is arrested, crucified, and murdered.
16. Jesus invited sinners. He called them to God's banquet. But Jesus understood something, that he himself as the one who calls the sinner this way must die upon the cross. That is, he knew that in order for the banquet to be held, in which the forgiveness of sin is abundantly given, he himself must be slain as the atonement sacrifice for sin.
17. We rejoice together in God's grace. We are invited to such a joy. But [there is something that] we must never forget, that the one who has called us to such a joy of salvation is the one who was crucified as the atonement for our sin. That's why fasting has been practiced since ancient times in the church during the time of Lent when we remember the passion of the Christ.
18. Fasting under that definition is, in the final analysis, important. We may not be doing a fast of literally cutting out eating. But even still, it is important that we cut out something but all the while looking to the cross of Christ when we do. Or perhaps, even though it may not be the pain brought upon the body by fasting, to endure the pain as we think of the cross of Christ at one moment or another, and to bear the heavy load [of these thoughts] is important to do. That is one part of the faith life.
19. Be it this joy of the banquet or be it fasting, after we arrive with Christ it is a kind of "new wine" that we are given. It is not the old wine with the name of "religion," but the new wine which is fermenting vibrantly and bubbling with life. What Christ has given to us after he arrived is not "a new religion" but the new life and the new lifestyle that comes from the new life.
20. Jesus said, "New wine has to go into new leather skins," (verse thirty-eight). In order to put this "new wine" in, the church must always be "the new wine skins." [The church] must not be the old wine skins, like that seen in those Pharisees. If you put new wine into old skins it ends up busting.
21. [The church] must not become "old wine skins," the kind in which just observing some [law or custom] is respected and being observant of something is deliberately admired. [Whenever] everybody does a mutual surveillance of each other, and criticizes each other, and therefore, by observing what they are supposed to observe to the best of their ability so that they are not criticized, they wind up living overly proud in their observance [of the law and the customs]. We mustn't become "old skins" which are only a lame and life-less fellowship. Let's seek to always be like that of "the new skins," always flexible, loose, and fine no matter how the joy of the banquet has been flowing, and at the same time, laying up in store [some] true fasting in between.