FEASTING and FAST FOOD FEVER
Mark 2:18-28; Matthew 4:1-2
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
Facts: we can survive a little bit without air or water: roughly 40-55 days without food. Fasting is defined as an act of total or partial abstinence from food for a limited time, usually for moral or religious reasons.
So, what about fasting in the New Testament time period? 2 Corinthians 11: 27 tells us Paul’s view: “in fasting, often” or, “I have lived with weariness and pain & sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food…” As to Jesus view, two passages stand out: Matthew 6:16 and Mark 2:18-19 (Matthew 9:15), Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward… The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days., these are from the Sermon on the Mount and the Wedding passages.
1) When you fast or they will fast… connects fasting, giving and prayer. These three things were considered to be a regular part of normal devotion. They were givens. However: these words don’t give us a command: they were simple instructions about common practices and how to exercise them.
2) The Wedding dynamic: with Jesus, a new day of revolution and Kingdom awareness. It was a bursting forth of power and it served as an inroad to kingdom reality: God had come among them in present reality and power. The bridegroom’s presence calls for feasting, not fasting: the fasting comes later, so let’s look at: 1) A FAST BLAST TO THE PAST, 2) A FAST QUESTION FOR BELIEVERS, 3) A FAST STATEMENT ABOUT THE NEW AND OLD.
1) A FAST BLAST TO THE PAST
Fasting: Why the disdain?
1) Fasting received a bad rap due to ascetic abuse and middle ages result of a decline in inner reality of faith that led to external appearances and conformity. Whenever there is form devoid of spiritual power: law dominates with a sense of manipulative power.
2) Modern Propaganda: We have been convinced that 3 squares and snacks are the American way. Without this level of food intake: we are going to starve. Couple this with the prevailing thought that we are entitled to fulfill every appetite we have and fasting has become an obsolete idea and practice.
There are three levels concerning how we should understand this teaching on fasting. On the first level, it is Mark’s compositional record of the third confrontation between Jesus and the religious elite from Jerusalem in Galilee. Secondarily, it is community oriented, as it records these important sayings of Jesus that are intentional in their ability to create a construct of belief and practice when it comes to fasting. The third level is ministry oriented, as the story distinguishes Jesus, setting Jesus apart from other ministers and ministries of His day, even the ministry of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
BACKGROUND It is probably important to give the back story about fasting to make the most sense about what Jesus said. We see that biblically, most times of fasting only involve the individual and God: only the Day of Atonement was required by Mosaic Law (Lev 23:27). Occasionally there were times of corporate fasts for National emergencies and calamities, Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people, Joel 2:15). 2 Chronicles 20:1-4 shows us how Jehoshaphat called a fast during a time of invasion; Jonah records how people and animals were forced to fast in repentance.
Fasting was also distinctly connected to repentance, like Jonah and Nineveh (Jonah 3:5), to atone for personal sin (Leviticus 16:29-30; 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7), to mourn over national tragedy (1 Samuel 31:13), or as an aid in intercession for a personal concern (2 Samuel 12:16-17), or a collective concern for the people of faith (Joel 1:14). Daniel the Satrap and Prophet fasted to gain understanding of Scripture and dreams and visions (Daniel (9:27).
In 1756 the King of England called a day of fasting out of fear of invasion by France. John Wesley wrote about this fast saying that: “The fast day was a glorious day, such as London has scarce seen since the reformation. Every Church in the city was more than full, and a solemn seriousness sat on every face. Surely God heareth prayer, so there will be a lengthening of our tranquility.” Side note: Humility turned into rejoicing as the threatened invasion was averted. Maybe Prime Minister May should look to the past in governing England and dealing with invasion.
The people also thought that fasting was especially appropriate for widows, as it served as a sign of mourning over the loss of her husband, but on a deeper level, a widows fast represented a holy, prayerful attitude that represented the whole nations longing for reunion with the LORD, and for the coming of His Kingdom, She fasted during that entire period except when fasting was forbidden: the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the eve of the New Moon Festival and the Festival itself, and all the festivals and holidays observed by the people of Israel… and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day (Judith 8:6, Good News Translation; Luke 2:37).
The point of the connection between fasting, prayer and giving in the midst of conflict with the religious rulers wasn’t to exterminate the practices or to move them into a nullified category. Jesus was simply changing the platform that they operate from. Pious Jews did them as an act that demonstrated their holiness and righteousness. Jesus changed that perspective (Luke 18), also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:12). This leaves us with uncertainty as to reason, but it is safe to assume that John’s disciples fasted to prepare themselves for, and quickening the coming of the Kingdom, which was typically understood as ushering in divine judgement.
2) A FAST QUESTION FOR BELIEVERS
Jesus counter question answer to the disciples of John is revelatory, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, as it lets us see that Jesus isn’t just a pointer to the Kingdom like John was in his ministry as a voice in the wilderness (Mark 1:3; John 1:23). Jesus does announce the coming Kingdom, but the reality of the Kingdom begins with Jesus. Jesus told the listeners that contrary to sorrow and mourning, now was a time to partah and be filled with joy.
No one in their right mind thinks about going to a wedding to fast and be sad. You go to a wedding to dance, eat and bless the couple as they begin life together. Some have said that the significance of this story is to show us that as long as Jesus was physically there, fasting was not an ongoing priority. I struggle with that as a dictate, however. When you look at Jesus telling these same disciples that casting out certain demons required fasting coupled with prayer, it becomes difficult to bring both thoughts together.
As compelling and fun as it may be to use the comparison of joy during Jesus ministry, it seems to lack the punch that the story deserves. When we burrow under the surface, another truth seems to be lying in wait. Drawing on the Old Testament revelation again, it seems that Jesus was claiming to be the metaphorical Bridegroom of the newly emerging people of God. This would have been a revolutionary exposition, as Messiah was never identified as the Bridegroom in the Law or the Prophets. That was the exclusive domain of YHWH. Indeed, if this was Jesus claim, it would have caused great amazement and concern, as those who were in opposition to Jesus could have leveled the charge of blasphemy against Him.
This is a great example of how the actual words of Jesus could hold a dual meaning, the surface understanding would address the Jewish religious community, while the deeper meaning would speak to the newly forming Christians. They had a greater understanding of the implications of Golgotha, the Cross and the resurrection, that the common Jewish people would not be in tune with. Christians would have seen Jesus as the Bridegroom, not just a reason to be happy in the moment.
Jesus cryptic statement that “the day will come when the Bridegroom will be taken away,” was an obviously veiled allusion to the death that was coming. John’s disciple’s fast probably had overtones of Kingdom awareness, but it was just as likely to have been initiated at the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. Regardless, Mark tells us that the reason Christians fasting is pending and will not begin until after Jesus has ascended to Heaven. Christians should fast as an expression of our longing for the return of Jesus. Just like a bride will anxiously wait for her husband to return from a business trio, the church fasts out of a longing to see Jesus.
3) A FAST STATEMENT ABOUT NEW AND OLD
Mark adds to his record of Jesus ministry time by inserting two sayings or brief parables about sewing and mending, wine and wineskins. The two crisp parables of Jesus are the first in the Gospel of Mark. Both incorporate common images of the day. These stories apply to the newness of Jesus’ radical message of the kingdom of God, and its incompatibility with the existing forms of religion and society, as is already being shown in Mark’s story by the conflicts with representatives of the status quo into which Jesus’ ministry is increasingly leading him. Both parables speak not only of incompatibility, but of the destructive results of attempting a compromise with the old. The twin parables here teach the incompatibility of the old (scribal Judaism) and the new (Christianity). Judaism is the old garment and the old wineskin. Christianity is the new garment (implied), the new wineskin, and the new wine. The point is not that the “old” is wrong or evil but that its time has passed.
Both illustrate what Jesus had said in the image of the wedding feast: with Jesus, there is an entirely new reality that is breaking into this realm. It is important to understand this and to embrace the reality of the paradigm shift and change your stinking thinking. Jesus was making room for a new way of thinking and behaving. Jesus disciples were precluded from fasting in the present now unlike the Pharisees and even John’s disciples, because Jesus people are not concerned with the ascetic aspects of fasting or on the judgement overtones that are pending and will happen before the return of Christ. Jesus People are supposed to rejoice in the present outbreaking of salvation, which should make your heart go pitter patter with joyous exuberance. This is the present reality of being in and with Jesus.
The main impression of both parables is their finality. The unshrinking patch “will pull away” from the old garment, “making the tear worse.” The Greek word for “pull away,” airein, is the root of the word in v. 20 describing the bridegroom being “taken from them” (apairein). Likewise, the wineskins will be “burst” and “ruined” (apollymi, “destroyed”). In both instances, something once serviceable is destroyed and of no further value. The new patch and new wine are incompatible with the old cloth and wineskins; and if the attempt is made to combine them, the new substances will destroy the old.
“Both parables are about the relation of Jesus, and of Christianity, to traditional Judaism.” The parables illustrate the radical posture and presumption of Jesus. Jesus is the new patch and the new wine. He is not an attachment, addition, or appendage to the status quo. He cannot be integrated into or contained by preexisting structures, even Judaism, Torah, and the synagogue. He is, of course, neither ascetic nor anarchist. Jesus participates as a human being in human structures.
As we have seen, Jesus goes to Synagogue, just not like everyone else. Jesus goes with a new teaching (1:27). Jesus is like the scribes in that he teaches, but his authority is greater than theirs (1:22). Jesus honors Torah by sending the healed paralytic to make the offering required by Moses, but he is not bound by Torah; he breaks it when it impedes his ministry (2:24; 3:1–6), and he subordinates it to himself (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4). Jesus contemporaries exclaim, we have never seen anything like this! (2:12).
Jesus relinquishes himself completely, though never surrendering his divine authority. Jesus gives himself in service, but renders allegiance to none but God. He gives his life to the world, but he is not a captive of the world. The question posed by the image of the wedding feast and the two atom-like parables is not whether disciples will, like sewing a new patch on an old garment or refilling an old container, make room for Jesus in their already full agendas and lives. The question is whether they will forsake business as usual and join the wedding celebration; whether they will become entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the gospel in their lives.
Ever since those days we as the church have lived in a state of tension between two rhythms. On one hand, we rejoice because Jesus is with us and so we celebrate precisely because Jesus is present with us, giving us reason to feast. On the other hand, we know that Jesus is coming, and that when He arrives judgment will be immanent. This gives us cause to fast.
Acts 13:1-3 shows us the power of the dynamic of fasting & sending
Cool connection: fasting & worship & prayer: breath of God
Fasting is important: more than any other discipline, it exposes us to what controls us & calls us back to a balanced life