Prepare to listen. Be still and silent in preparation to hear the Gospel. When ready, pray: I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. (Psalm 119:15)
Read Mark 2:18-22
18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
In this passage, Jesus speaks his longest discourse yet in Mark’s Gospel. It’s in response to a question about fasting, and how often one should fast. The Law of Moses stipulated only one day a year for fasting by the entire nation—the Day of Atonement. Additional fasts were added later for various reasons. The Pharisees added two weekly fasts, probably to show off their piety. We know nothing about the reasons why John’s disciples chose to fast. I think we can assume that Jesus’ response is attacking the pharisaical piety that kept the average person under oppression—they could never live their lives the way the Pharisees demanded. Weekly fasting is only possible for the wealthy and well-fed. The poor know about involuntary fasting and hunger on a regular basis. They didn’t have the luxury to choose whether to eat or fast on most days.
You may have noticed that Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly or plainly! Instead, he uses figurative language filled with images that hint at the end towards which God is moving all things and also at the dramatic changes that Jesus came to bring. The first image is bridegroom and wedding. Jesus seems to be saying that the ‘wedding’ has to do with his presence and, since he was present, that was the time for rejoicing and feasting. When he (the bridegroom) left (a veiled reference to his death) then fasting would be appropriate. It is very likely that no one then understood Jesus’ image, not even his disciples.
The two mini-parables are puzzling and seem to have little to do with the question about fasting. It could be that Mark has added them here even though Jesus didn’t actually say them at this time. However, there is a definite link between them and the previous saying about the bridegroom. There is more going on than merely a warning that old and new don’t really mix. It’s very likely that Jesus was again directing his words against the Pharisees who held onto the status quo in order to maintain power over the people. The ‘new’, a Greek word that usually connotes totally new as in a re-creation, looks forward to the ‘new’ day that Jesus came to bring in.
What puzzles you or gets your attention in this lesson? What question are you being called to live with today?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
There are times, Lord when I’m like the scribes and want to keep things the way they are. I know there are good things that I should conserve, but there are many things where being conservative isn’t good enough. Give me the discernment and courage I need to give up the old in order to take on the totally new you offer. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world accepting the new in Jesus.