Today’s Thought: What might the life of Jesus tell us about the nature of God?
For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
As we read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark, it becomes obvious that the Pharisees and scribes are not handling Jesus’s presence well—mainly because he doesn’t seem interested in following their well-established religious rules and traditions. Mark’s narrative moves quickly as he lists one example after another of Jesus asserting his authority, just to have it questioned. Now, in Mark 2:18-22, he faces more questioning from the crowds of people following him.
Fasting was a regular part of Jewish life, sometimes observed on Holy Days or special occasions, but also commonly practiced at least a couple days each week. Noticing this was not the case for Jesus’s followers, the people asked:
“Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus 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. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. (v19-20)
While it was culturally accurate that fasting was abstained from during times of celebration, Jesus’s answer would have seemed odd to 1st Century Jews in two respects: First, using the wedding metaphor with Jesus as the bridegroom bordered on heresy. Old Testament scripture includes the same metaphor, but only in relation to God himself. Jesus inserting himself into the metaphor in place of God would not have been lost on the religiously observant crowd.
Secondly, Jesus says that his disciples will have plenty of time to fast when the bridegroom is taken away from them. Typically, it would have been the wedding guests who left the bridegroom, not the other way around. Jesus’s statement would not have made sense to the crowd since it’s a reversal of expected behavior. However, all of this fits with the message Jesus has preached from the start: Things aren’t going to be like they’ve been before. A message he hammers home in two short parables:
“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. And 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.” (v21-22)
Jesus is here with a new message… a new piece of cloth and new wine, if you will. And the new message can’t be grafted onto the old because it’s completely different. Trying to mix the two would only ruin them both. It’s going to require a complete change.
No longer is it enough to merely follow laws and check off the “to-do” list of faith. God wants more from his people. He wants our hearts, and he wants to be in relationship with us. The incarnation of Jesus is part of building that relationship. But the Pharisees and the Herodians and the people who don’t want to change or don’t understand the message aren’t going quietly. And the bridegroom knows it.
Monday’s Meditation: It is commonly said that the Trinity is a mystery. And it certainly is. But it is not a mystery veiled in darkness in which we can only grope and guess. It is not a mystery that keeps us in the dark, but a mystery in which we are taken by the hand and gradually led into the light. — Eugene Peterson (1932-2018), American Presbyterian minister, theologian, and author of The Message, a paraphrased translation of the Bible.