Please pardon the following unconscionable play on words:
Are you ready for another post about fasting?
Man, have I been away from this topic for a while. I had a stack of commentaries sitting on my desk for more than two months, borrowed from my pastor who for a while was taking in the sights in Israel. I knew he was getting back soon and had asked about them before he left, so I figured my time was limited. The commentaries I had borrowed were on the Gospel of Mark. Specifically I’ve been wanting to study Mark 2:18-22. Here is the passage in question:
“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?” 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. 20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”
Significant to this passage is the fact that it is the only New Testament passage that deals with fasting with more than a passing reference. In trying to understand the practice of fasting, I’m looking to this passage for help.
In case you’re new to my discussion of fasting, I have been perplexed by the question of whether fasting is useful for the pursuit of holiness. Fasting is never prescribed in the New Testament, and only in reference to the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. It is understood to be a common practice in New Testament times, and is never prohibited, and yet precious little is said about the proper way to do it. I’ve already concluded that fasting does not make one holy, but that it may be useful for subduing the appetites of the flesh.
A remaining area of interest is the relationship of fasting to the ministry of Christ. As we see in the passage quoted above, the practice of fasting was impacted by the presence of Christ. I wanted to see how and why this was the case. I’d like to share some important observations I gleaned from my use of commentaries:
- The Pharisees were concerned chiefly with asserting their own righteousness, not in the practice of fasting itself. They fasted twice a week and made quite the public show of it. Their question was a veiled was of noting their own piety. (WE fast…why don’t YOU?)
- Jesus response is not meant, again, to teach on the subject of fasting but to condemn the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. Jesus seems to imply that fasting is a somber practice, and His presence with His people was a cause for joy. For His followers to fast would have been contradictory to their mood. In saying this Jesus implied that the Pharisees’ show of somber fasting was hypocrisy because they were inwardly prideful.
- The parables used by Jesus underline the fact that the Pharisees and Jesus were completely at odds and that no compromise could be forged. The Pharisees employed fasting to establish a righteousness of their own. This is not how true holiness is obtained. Christ came to provide an alien righteousness which the Pharisees would reject. Any practice which seeks to please God must refer to our need for a righteousness outside of ourselves. This is not the point of the passage, but I believe it is rightly inferred.
- This time of abstention from fasting on account of Jesus’ presence was not permanent. In other words, it was not His coming per se, but His actual presence. Christians need not view fasting as having been rendered permanently suspended because Christ has come once.
Top to bottom, I am seeing that I was dangerously viewing this passage though isogetical eyes. I wanted to learn about fasting, but this passage teaches only by inference about the practice. This is always an obstacle when studying topically.
I do think it is fair so say that this passage implies that fasting is something to be done in somber humility. While fasting is not explicitly prescribe I am seeing, more and more, that there is a proper way to fast. It is not what I thought it might be. There are still many pieces I need to fit together, and already the picture is turning out much differently than I expected. Glory be to God for His goodness and wisdom!