Matthew 9:9-17 (NKJV)
9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. 10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” 14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. 17 “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t only perform outward healings. His ministry was mostly spiritual. He called sinners like Matthew to leave their sinful life and follow Him, and they did. He went to the houses of sinners and ate and drank with them, showing them that they were safe with Him—not safe to go on living in sin, but safe to confess their sins, with the assurance of full and free forgiveness with Him and from Him. He had come to call sinners to repentance. To them He opened wide the doors of heaven, and He still does.
At the same time, He slammed the door shut on those who pretended to be righteous or healthy. To them, religion was about external deeds, of which they thought they had done plenty. Their pride had two tragic consequences. It prevented them from receiving help from Jesus, and it caused them to begrudge His help to others whom they considered to be unworthy.
Even John the Baptist’s disciples, who were familiar with repentance, were fixated on external religion, outward piety. They couldn’t understand why Jesus’ disciples didn’t openly fast, as they did. Jesus used the parables of the cloth and the wineskins to illustrate that the new covenant is different from the old. The Gospel is focused on mercy, not sacrifice, obedience from the heart, not external ceremonies, true repentance and faith in Christ, not a perfunctory show of religiosity. The joy of the Gospel of Jesus’ compassion is too big to be confined to a strict schedule of obligatory fasting.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, great Physician, You are righteous. We are not. Blot out our sins and heal our souls, for Your mercy’s sake alone, and stay with us until the end to keep attending to our healing. Amen.