Mark 2:18-22: ‘When you fast…’

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 wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’ NIV UK

 Don’t take today’s reading as saying, ‘You’re off the hook with regard to fasting.’ It very much is not saying that, and fasting remains an important discipline for Christians. What this section of Mark does show, however, is that there are ‘seasons’ in life. Jesus spoke of Himself as ‘’the bridegroom’’ (20), and said that fasting would be inappropriate while He was with the disciples. ‘’But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast’’ (20). We are now living ‘between the times.’ The ‘’bridegroom’’ has gone from us, and until He returns we are in the season for fasting.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘’When you fast…’’ (Matthew 6:16). He also said: ‘’…when you give…when you pray…’’ (Matthew 6:2,5). He did not say if but when. He assumed His followers would fast. When we read the book of Acts, we get glimpses that fasting still played a part in their life together (13:2,3; 14:23). No one can pretend that denying self, mortifying the flesh with fasting, is easy, but those who take the discipline seriously know that fasting, in the purposes of God, seems to open doors into powerful realities. Someone put it like this: ‘Fasting multiplies prayer power.’ That statement is not in the Bible, but I would imagine that those with any experience of Christian fasting will relate to it.

At the same time, though, we all need to be aware of legalism – of trying to impose man-made rules on ourselves or others. Real Christianity cannot be contained within such a framework and must burst out of it. The people pointing the finger at Jesus’s disciples for not fasting at this time were in the wrong. Our passage makes this clear. So let’s be very careful