A Discussion about Fasting
18 Once when John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, "Why don't your disciples fast like John's disciples and the Pharisees do?"
19 Jesus replied, "Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can't fast while the groom is with them. 20 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 "Besides, 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.
22 "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins."
Jesus contrasts the sorrow associated with fasting with the joy associated with a wedding. He uses significant imagery to show that his teaching is intended to usher in a new way of serving God - one that results in joy and peace. Notice the images of newness: a wedding; a new patch of cloth; new wine. The newness that Jesus' coming brings cannot be confined to the old forms of Judaism.165
Fasting (Mark 2:18)
While there was only one mandatory fast for the nation of Israel, on the Day of Atonement, stricter Jews fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.).166 Jesus was not opposed to fasting, particularly when undertaken with the right motives: repentance, mourning, great distress, "or in preparation for a time of trial or special mission."167 In the case of John's disciples and the Pharisees, the primary motives were probably repentance and purity, respectively.168
Wedding guests (Mark 2:19)
In Jesus' day a Jewish wedding was followed not by a honeymoon but, rather, by a week-long celebration in which the closest friends of the bride and bridegroom - called children (or sons) of the bridechamber - were invited. This seems to be the image Jesus has in mind here, as he compares his disciples to the specially chosen guests at a wedding feast. A special rabbinic ruling exempted all such guests from religious duties, including fasting, that would put a damper on their celebration.169
"[M]ourning, fasting, and preparation" were associated with, and appropriate to, John's ministry - just as the theme of celebration accompanied the presence and ministry of Jesus.170 What's more, this side of Pentecost every true Christian should be filled with joy. As one source puts it: "If it be true that 'God with us' (Immanuel) spells joy for believers, should not 'God within us' (the situation on and after Pentecost) awaken in every child of God joy unspeakable and full of glory?"171
New cloth ... new wine (Mark 2:21, 22)
Jesus' teaching is like a new patch of cloth that cannot simply be added to an old garment, and it is like new wine that cannot simply be added to an old wineskin. In both cases, "a little of the new is worse than useless to preserve the old."172 In the immediate context, Jesus' point is that the new life he offers must result in "gratitude, freedom, and spontaneous service to the glory of God."173 Jesus' larger point, however, is that "[s]alvation, available through Jesus, was not to be mixed with the old Judaistic system (cf. John 1:17)."174 As one source puts it: "[T]he presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signaled the passing of the old. It could not be confined within the old religion of Judaism, but involved the inauguration and consummation of the kingdom of God."175
We can also note how Jesus' words serve as a corrective against the call by modern "progressive" leaders to abandon "old and worn arguments" against sinful lifestyle choices.176 Such liberal leaders typically take a two-pronged approach: They assert that the Bible is an ancient book (= old wineskin) incapable of addressing contemporary problems, while calling for an "enlightened" approach (= new wine) of working toward solutions that embrace and affirm people of all beliefs and lifestyles - except, of course, for anyone who disagrees with them. Such thinking is deficient in any number of ways, but primarily because it blindly refuses to recognize the Bible for what it truly is: the inspired Word of God that reflects his consistent standards. The truth is that God's ways do not change, and pride-filled rebellion against God and his standards is as old as humanity itself. Here we can draw counsel from the book of Hebrews: "Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas" (Hebrews 13:7-9a).
No Other Way
Warren Wiersbe points out how Jesus' use of the illustration regarding new wine in the old wineskins refutes the popular notion of a "world religion" comprised of "the best" from the world's many religions.177 Like other religions, the Christian faith makes exclusive truth claims. Unlike the truth claims of other religions, however, those associated with the Christian faith center on the words and works of Jesus Christ, proven to be the divine Son of God by both his teachings and his miracles, the greatest of which was his own resurrection from the dead.
A wedding is a very special occasion that marks the beginning of a whole new phase of life. It's no wonder, then, that the Bible uses wedding imagery in describing our new life with Christ. The Church is Christ's betrothed bride; legally it is just as if we are already joined together. Our joy will not be complete, however, until our bridegroom returns to take us home. While we can be and should be joyful now, we will be infinitely more joyful then.
??? How and why does our faith in Christ make us joyful?