18 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?”

19 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. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wine-skins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wine-skins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wine-skins.” Mark 2:18-22

The people who came to Jesus with their question about fasting are unspecified: perhaps observant, perhaps curious, perhaps interested, or perhaps critical; who knows? They were looking in on a situation of religious observance from the outside. Perhaps they were more impressed by the discipline of the disciples of John and the Pharisees than by the happy-go-lucky attitude of Jesus and His disciples. These were frivolous compared with the religious austerity of the other men.

Jesus’ reply is surprising, exactly reflecting the scenario these people were questioning. What was He saying? “Haven’t you people got it yet? Don’t you recognise that it’s party time? The bridegroom is here and He has come to claim His bride. This is not time for austerity. It’s time to enter into the celebration.”

He adds two earthy but cryptic observations – new cloth, new wine; old garment, old wine-skins. This should have alerted the listeners that something big is going on here; a big upheaval in their thinking and in their system is happening. New cloth and new wine are not yet in a static and inflexible state. They have to be connected to something that will move with them.

The old system, represented by statutory fasting and all the other disciplines attached to it, has lost its heart. It is no longer flexible, elastic and living, able to move and grow. It cannot hold the new wine of the Spirit, the dynamic, mysterious life of God, without being ruptured by its power. God’s life cannot flourish in a rigid form. Jesus said that the life of the Spirit is like the wind, invisible, unpredictable but dynamic in its outcome. If we try to pour it into a rigid system of rules and ritual, it will explode the system and dissipate.

Like every other aspect of life in the Spirit, fasting must be of the heart, motivated by love and obedience and directed towards a higher purpose – seeking fellowship and oneness with the Father, flowing in harmony with the unpredictable life of the Spirit.

Luella Campbell

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