March 2, 2023
18 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?”19 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. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.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. 22 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.”
Jesus Brings a Totally New Way
My first thought when reading this passage was: Why would Jesus criticize the Pharisees for fasting? Isn’t this a spiritual discipline that is not only taught in the Bible but one that Jesus himself practiced?
On further reflection, I came to understand that this was not the message Jesus was trying to convey. Rather, in this passage there are a few important lessons we should not miss.
When asked why he and his disciples did not fast, Jesus paints the picture of a wedding feast where the guests fast despite the bridegroom being present. If we agree that a wedding is one of the happier occasions one could attend, you start to wonder why anyone would choose to miss out on the celebration (and food) and fast instead. To put it bluntly, those guests were forcing themselves to be miserable when it’s almost indecent to be anything but joyful. The same thing can be said about the Jews living during Jesus’ time. They are experiencing a time where God himself is living among them. Not only that, but they also have the chance to witness the law being fulfilled in their lifetime. In short, you could say they are at the best wedding ever. So why be sad?
To be able to see the joy in Jesus’ arrival you need to understand why he came. He didn’t come to teach us how to properly observe established religious traditions, but to bring us a totally new way. This is illustrated in the parables Jesus uses in the verses that follow. It is useless, he says, to sew a new cloth to an old garment because it would only worsen the tear. If we hold on to religious rituals and give them power over us, we fail to make room for the transforming power of Jesus’ sacrifice. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to judge the Pharisees, but don’t we all have rituals we hold on to a little too dearly?
While God can work in any heart, what we should take away from this story is that only a heart completely transformed by the Gospel can experience the abounding joy Jesus wants us to have when serving God.