Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Questioned About Fasting
ALMOST a year has gone by since Jesus attended the Passover of 30 C.E. By now, John the Baptist has been imprisoned for several months. Although he wanted his disciples to become followers of Christ, not all of them have.
Now some of these disciples of the imprisoned John come to Jesus and ask: “Why is it that we and the Pharisees practice fasting but your disciples do not fast?” The Pharisees practice fasting twice a week as a ritual of their religion. And John’s disciples perhaps follow a similar custom. It may also be that they are fasting to mourn John’s imprisonment and wonder why Jesus’ disciples do not join them in this expression of grief.
In answer Jesus explains: “The friends of the bridegroom have no reason to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, do they? But days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
John’s disciples should recall that John himself spoke of Jesus as the Bridegroom. So, while Jesus is present, John would not consider it appropriate to fast, and neither do Jesus’ disciples. Later, when Jesus dies, his disciples do mourn and fast. But when he is resurrected and ascends to heaven, they have no further cause for mournful fasting.
Next, Jesus tells these illustrations: “Nobody sews a patch of unshrunk cloth upon an old outer garment; for its full strength would pull from the outer garment and the tear would become worse. Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins; but if they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But people put new wine into new wineskins.” What do these illustrations have to do with fasting?
Jesus was helping John’s disciples to appreciate that no one should expect his followers to conform to the old practices of Judaism, such as ritual fasting. He did not come to patch up and prolong old worn-out systems of worship that were ready for discarding. Christianity would not be made to conform to the Judaism of the day with its traditions of men. No, it would not be as a new patch on an old garment or as new wine in an old wineskin. Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39; John 3:27-29.
◆ Who practiced fasting, and for what purpose?
◆ Why did Jesus’ disciples not fast while he was with them, and afterward how did cause for fasting soon disappear?
◆ What illustrations did Jesus tell, and what do they mean?
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