In Mark 2:18-22, it was a time for fasting. John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples were fasting, but Jesus’ were not. So they came up and asked Jesus why this is. Jesus replied with 3 analogies:
- Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not, they can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
- “Who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.”
- “No one puts new wine into old wine skins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”
Now, looking at the first response, I’ve got to admit that if Jesus was to tell me this, I would no doubt be just as confused as the people who did ask Him. “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Huh? What does a wedding have to do with fasting? To understand this, we will have to look at the event of an ancient Jewish wedding:
Back then, a Jewish wedding would often include a 7-day long celebration. Fasting, on the other hand, was connected with grief and sadness. So grieving during a joyous celebration was like a taboo…you just didn’t do it and it would be rude to the soon-to-be-married couple if you did. Now, another point to make here is about the time of the fasting. In the Mosaic Law, the only time required for fasting is on the Day of Atonement. Any other required time was originally added as voluntary, but then later turned into tradition by the Pharisees (Teachers of Religious Law).
So why are Jesus’ disciples not fasting when everybody else is? Because Jesus’ presence is not to be a time for grieving, but of celebration. The people’s Savior has finally arrived! This is a time to celebrate, not grieve. Jesus will be taken away to die later, and THEN His disciples will grieve, but now is not that time. Jesus was basically saying, ‘My disciples don’t fast because I am with them. When I’m gone, then they will have reason to grieve. But for now, it’s the time for celebration,” and so He used the analogy of a wedding celebration to explain this awesome event taking place.
Though Jesus stuck to the Mosaic Law, He didn’t follow man-made traditions. And every day of fasting, other than the Day of Atonement, is a man-made tradition (Pharisees often fasted twice a week: Mondays and Thursdays). Also, even if it had been the Day of Atonement, there was still no reason to fast, for the One who would atone them of their sins was with them.
Fasting is also not to be a time of people’s recognition, but a time to be personal and directed towards God. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees often did things out of tradition. But tradition is done for its own sake, not for God’s, and fasting is supposed to be directed towards God, not to please others. So fasting just because everybody else was doing it would not have been true fasting.
Also while reading this, I wonder if Peter even understood everything he was saying, or if Mark even picked up on it, for what Jesus was saying here was huge, especially if the day WAS the Day of Atonement! For on that day, God’s people were to deny themselves and not do any work, because on that day, atonement would be made for them to cleanse them. Then, before the Lord, they would be clean from all their sins. The Priest who’s anointed and ordained to succeed his father as High Priest was to make the atonement. He was to put on sacred linen garments, and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting, the altar, the priests, and the people of God. Hebrews 7:26-8:3 and 9:6-14 explain this well in relation to what Jesus in fact did. And in order to be atoned for, we too deny ourselves, but the denial that’s needed for atonement is needed only once, when we first come to Jesus. So you see, Jesus’ disciples didn’t need to fast, because Jesus, who would later fulfill all that the Day of Atonement was meant to do, was with them. Only He could do what the day required, and only He could and would do it once and for all, and this was something worth celebrating, not grieving over. Though when He is gone, THEN they will grieve and fast. But again, it won’t be at the same time as the Pharisees, for at that time, for them it will be their time of celebration.