Fasting and Feasting
Mark introduces us to more confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. He had come to forge a relationship between God and people: they were obsessed by rituals and rules. The issue was about the practice of fasting. It was not about fasting being right or wrong, because Jesus assumed that it was as normal a spiritual discipline as prayer and giving to the poor (Matthew 6:2,5,16). It was all about how and why it is done. In the Law of Moses, fasting was only demanded on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). But after the return of the exiles, around 500BC, fasting was mandatory on four other feast days in the year. By the time of Jesus, most devout Jews would fast on Monday and Thursday every week as well! These were additions to God's law in an attempt to win His favour.
As Jesus' ministry got underway, John the Baptist was still preaching repentance and his students retained the religious habit of fasting, as the Pharisees did. But in addition to fast-days, the Jews held feast-days. Those feasts recognised God's kindness to Israel and His power in delivering them. They were times of great celebration, because God's salvation was at the core of Israel's history. The weekly feast was the Sabbath and there were six others (Leviticus 23:1-44). Three feasts were also major festivals in Jerusalem: the Feasts of Passover, Weeks (or Pentecost) and Tabernacles (2 Chronicles 8:13) where it was expected that every able bodied male would go in pilgrimage – hence the large numbers in Jerusalem at key points of Jesus' ministry and the birth of the church (Acts 2:1-12).
Jesus said that fasting was not appropriate at a wedding; and the disciples were the attendants of the bridegroom (Matthew 22:1-14). He simply stated that while He was on earth, it was a time for rejoicing. But already in His ministry Jesus says that He would go away, and leave the disciples. We live in that time when the church is His Bride awaiting the return of our Bridegroom (Revelation 21:1-4). In this time we do rejoice, and communion is a special 'feast' (Acts 2:46-47) but we also suffer; so fasting may be helpful as a spiritual discipline, as long as we also celebrate our salvation.
Does our religious practice assume that God will be impressed by what we do? If we can do more than He has asked will He be even more pleased? Jesus taught that being close to Him is more important than doing things for Him – although the one should flow from the other. It is not wrong to have personal spiritual disciplines, but God wants our love most of all. The automatic recitation of words, choreographed posture for prayer, fasting and even a mechanical 'quiet time' give our souls no advantage, without knowing and trusting Jesus. Many unbelievers pray in panic or fast in fear because nobody has ever told them how to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. Let us tell them (www.crosscheck.org.uk) and live a life worthy of people who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of our Bridegroom (Colossians 1:10).
© Dr Paul Adams