Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jesus Talks about Fasting, the Bridegroom and New Wineskins (A Reflection on Mark 2:18-22)

On one occasion the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were fasting.
Some people came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist
and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but yours do not?’” (Mark 2:18, GNB).

Jesus was offending the teachers of the Law by claiming that He have authority to forgive sins (2:9-10), He casually eat with sinners (2:16) and now He break the religious customs, namely – fasting (and later, Sabbath). Why Jesus doesn’t obey the rule? For some of us, this look like bad example.

We must understand that by the time of Jesus the discipline of fasting had developed into a compulsory, external and complicated ritual. In the Old Testament, fasting was officially instructed to take place on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) every year. But the Pharisees religiously fasted on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year. They added the Law. And for your information, these days are to be market days in Jerusalem. I assume that they fast to show off. Hypocrites! That is why Jesus taught His disciples to fast quietly, with humble heart and in private (Matthew 6:16-18). So, was Jesus showing a bad example? Absolutely no!

Jesus answered, ‘Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to go without food?
Of course not! As long as the bridegroom is with them, they will not do that.
But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them,
 and then they will fast” (Mark 2:19-20, GNB).

From fasting to wedding, Jesus uses these everyday examples to illustrate His point. He is referring Himself as “the bridegroom” in the wedding ceremony. As long as He is here they don’t need to fast because the Messiah, the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53), “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was in the midst of them. Therefore, at least for His disciples, they don’t need to fast. They should rejoice! It is a time of feasting not fasting. “But the day will come” when Jesus will be taken away to die on the cross for them, and then “they will fast.” This is appropriate because fasting is an expression of sorrow. But I wonder; do the Pharisees understand His reply this way? No, maybe not. Perhaps the message for them is simply: “My disciples are different. They will surely fast once I am no more in their presence.

This interpretation about fasting is totally new to everyone. Does Jesus forbid it or command it? Both. He forbids external and legalistic approach to fasting. He commands purposeful and intentional fasting. Martin Luther, the reformer, writes: “It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting. It was his intention to restore proper fasting.” The Jewish Laws (at that time have become legalism) is like an old wineskin; and the Kingdom of God – its loving commands and lifestyles – is like new wineskin. And so Jesus continued,

No one uses a piece of new cloth to patch up and old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear off some of the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, because the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:21-22, GNB).

The New is in the Old contained,
The Old is in the New explained.
The New is in the Old latent,
The Old is in the New patent.
This is the Kingdom of God under Christ.
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