Being Religious, Fasting and the attitude of Jesus

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:18-22

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39

The next scene Mark jumps to is one in which we find both John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasting, while Jesus and His disciples are going on as normal. Curious about this, one of John’s disciples asks about it; why aren’t you fasting? There is a fairly clear implication that they should be, at least in this man’s mind, but Jesus doesn’t think so.

Jesus gives the man three answers to one question, beginning in verse 19. Likening Himself to a bridegroom, and His disciples to guests of the bridegroom, Jesus indicates to the man that fasting is not appropriate at that current time, for they are in a mood of celebration, yet the day will come when the bridegroom is no longer with His guests, and they will have occasion to fast then.

The second and third answers to the question begin at verse 21:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:21-22

In essence, Jesus gives two short parables that are designed to draw a profound distinction between the ministry of John, the Law and the ministry and purpose of Christ. John’s ministry was limited to prepare the way for Jesus, it was really a transitional ministry, under the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, had an entirely different purpose, for His was the purpose of fulfilling the Law and ushering in an entirely new order; the New Covenant. There was nothing about the ministry of Jesus that would serve to patch the old garment of the Law, He was not there to refill an old wineskin; the old garment and the old wineskin had served their purpose and Jesus would replace them both.

There would be no fasting! The Kingdom was at hand in the Person of Jesus Himself. While He was on the scene, fasting was not appropriate.

John’s disciples followed the same fasting regimen used by the Pharisees who fasted multiple days each week. In doing this, they hoped to set themselves apart as the most holy and righteous in all the land, following the Law not only to the letter, but going well beyond the requirements set down by Moses. It wasn’t a bad thing, in and of itself, for it was part of an oral tradition that developed over many centuries designed to ensure that they never accidentally violated the Law: It was very religious.

Yet, as so often happens in the field of human endeavor, the oral code became the very object of their religious existence, and sadly, God seemed to get lost in all of those rules somewhere. Jesus was not going to follow the religious code that was set up with all good intentions, for He knew that such systems tend to replace relationship with lists of rules being checked off: Replacing relationship with transaction.

Next time, let’s look at another example and see how Jesus handled it- see you then.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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7 Responses to Being Religious, Fasting and the attitude of Jesus

  1. Denine says:

    You’re not like us. You and your deciples are “other.” You don’t do what we do, you don’t act how we act. But did this make Jesus and His disciples wrong? – no – It was something new.

    “Old things have passed any behold the new has come into being”…. The Holy Spirit can’t fill a man in his old nature/unregenerated. It is unable to contain Him.

    The sabbath was made that we may find rest in Him. Yet, there is no rest when we continue to live under the law. .and it becomes, “look what I am doing for God” and we miss simply basking in His presence in awe and wonder. Worshiping in spirit and truth.

    Being other

  2. Barbara Lane says:

    I like that – replacing relationship with transaction. May I steal that thought?

  3. And, yet, they paid no heed to John either, even though he did everything the “right way”.

  4. Pingback: Being Religious, Fasting and the attitude of Jesus — TLP – quietmomentswithgod

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