ESV - 19 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
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At the time of Jesus' ministry, the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist fasted regularly as an exercise in self-denial and self-discipline, and also as a sign of repentance for sin, which implied a mood of sorrow. By contrast, Jesus indicated that His disciples did not engage in such fasting, since doing so would have been as inappropriate as the friends of a bridegroom fasting in the groom's (that is, Jesus') presence at his wedding feast, which was meant to be a time of celebration rather than sorrow (in addition to which, Jesus Himself was sinless and thus had no need for repentance). However, as Jesus also indicated, a day would be coming when He would no longer be physically present on earth (following His ascension), and His disciples would then resume periods of fasting at that time. (The imagery in this passage is similar to that employed in Revelation, where Jesus is spoken of as the groom of His spiritual bride, the Church.)
Fasting was a tradition of the Jewish religion. Jesus was teaching his disciples new traditions in keeping with their new Christian faith. Jesus makes it clear in the two examples following the quoted verse. “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. 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.” (Mark 2:21-22) What Jesus is saying is that you can’t mix old religious traditions with the new way of life that he was introducing. Even the tradition of fasting would have new meaning and purpose in the kingdom of God. The Jews used fasting to demonstrate their religious piety and venerate their spirituality. The disciples would use fasting and prayer to discern God’s will, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, to know where to preach the gospel and to know how to bring healing and deliverance to people in need. A new faith and a new way of life is supported by new traditions and religious practices. In so many of the New Testament letters we see the struggle to let go of the old Jewish practices and develop new ones that embraced the Gentile converts to the faith.
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