A Cryptic Answer


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. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2: 18-20).

Members of the audience asked Jesus a straightforward question and got an answer full of mystery. ‘Why do the disciples of these guys fast and yours do not?’ They said nothing about bridegrooms and weddings. But veiled in Jesus answer were many cryptic clues, both to His identity and His destiny.

Did those who questioned Him realise that He was referring to something that had happened in the history of His people centuries before? When the children of Israel came out of Egypt, God led them through the Red Sea straight to Mount Sinai in the land of Midian, where God had met with Moses and called him to deliver his people from slavery.

On their arrival, God went through all the stages in a young man’s courtship of a maiden culminating in a marriage proposal. He asked them to be His bride – and He was, therefore, from then on, betrothed to Israel, their bridegroom, awaiting the wedding day when He would fetch His bride and take her to His Father’s house where He had prepared the bridal chamber for the consummation of their marriage.

When Jesus, in a veiled way, referred to Himself as the “bridegroom”, was He saying that He was the one who had betrothed His people to Himself at Mount Sinai? Was He telling them that He had arrived in person to propose to His bride once again, since His betrothed had rejected Him in the past? Why should His presence among them be a time of fasting? It was a time of joyous celebration because He would remove all hostility between them and the Father once and for all.

Their sins had separated them from God. They had persistently rebelled against Him and disobeyed His instructions. They had betrayed Him and made alliances with them enemy. They were unfaithful to the marriage covenant He had given them at Mount Sinai. They had not honoured their promise to remain loyal to Him in spite of His faithfulness to them.

He had come Himself to deal with their misunderstanding of who His Father really was, so that they would anticipate their life in Father’s house with joy when the wedding day finally came. Both John the Baptist and the Pharisees, who had gathered followers around them, could make no such offer. All they could do was to invite people to become part of the religious ritual they followed. Even John, who was the forerunner of Messiah, could offer them nothing but “fasting”.

Then Jesus made another cryptic comment. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. What was He talking about? He did not say that the bridegroom would go away. That was the normal procedure in the courtship process. Both He and His bride has preparations to make before the wedding. His was to prepare the bridal chamber back as His Father’s house. Hers was to separate herself from all other men and to prepare her wedding gown.

But taken away? What did He mean? Again this was a cryptic clue and a veiled message that He would be forcefully removed. Why? How? He did not give them details. There was a hostile element in this love relationship that wanted the bridegroom out of the way. They would get rid of Him and then the real reason for fasting would begin – not ritual fasting for religious reasons but grief because the bridegroom had been permanently removed – so they thought.

Jesus did not tell them the end of the story. He was under no obligation to inform people who had no attachment to Him about His future. That would come later when His own disciples were thoroughly convinced that He was who He said He was – the Son of God – and would bear witness through their changed lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the kingdom of God had really come.

In the meantime it was perfectly okay for them to enjoy the presence of the bridegroom for a little while and not to get all religious about it.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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Luella Campbell

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