PARTNERS WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT: PART LXIII
The Hebrew Fathers had developed a comfort zone guarded by a merit system, known as “The tradition of the fathers.” The tradition of the fathers replaced the Law of Moses. And therefore, they made the Law of Moses fit into their merit system. Fasting was part of the merit gaining approval of God.
The comfort zone of the Jewish leaders did not dare to allow innovations or even any alterations, which would disrupt their tradition, believed to satisfy their God. And therefore, that comfort zone of the Jewish tradition of the fathers was the guarantee of their existence. Fasting and prayer were the heart of the Pharisaic system; therefore because of the merit system, they fasted at least twice a week (Luke 18:12). This is what the New Testament meant by works. Another merit gainer was “the washing hands” (Mark 7:8). To abstain openly from food and drinks, off and on, one gained special privileges and merits from their God. Along came Jesus and his disciples, and they did not fast or pray openly in public, and so did their leader, who did pray in private, and encouraged others to do likewise (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Matthew 6:5-8). Mark heard the public ask why Jesus’ disciples were not fasting openly? Matthew and Luke heard the disciples of John the Baptist ask why Jesus and his disciples did not fast and pray like the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39)? That was a violation of the rules of the Hebrew fathers.
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 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. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, he wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins” (Mark 2:18-22).
JESUS TOLD THE INQUISITORS THAT THEY WERE HAVING A BACHELOR’S PARTY
Jesus, the Bridegroom, was about to be married and his best men were celebrating. Their celebration would end when Jesus, the Bridegroom, would be taken from them; and then, the disciples would have ample time to fast. It is a brief parable about the arrival of the King, the Son of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven that would impose “Itself” on the Jewish religious kingdom, and that Jewish religious kingdom would resist any change whatsoever. The bridegroom was bringing in the new wine and a new teaching. And the old wineskins would not hold the new wine; and therefore, the new wine would rupture the old wineskins and destroy the wine, as well as the old wineskins. However, that was not the intention of the bridegroom. Jesus, the Son of God, was not going to use the old wineskins, but Jesus would bring in new wineskins and fill them with His Good News for the nation of Israel. It was not in the groom’s interest to destroy the old wine, like the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which could give good taste to the “New Wine” (Matthew 5:17-20: Luke 5:39). Change had to grow at its own pace; and not by coercion or revolutions, which destroys more than they accomplish.
HOW DID JESUS’ VISION TURN OUT?
The parable was a prediction of what would take place after the Jews rejected “Jesus, the Bridegroom,” and therefore, they did not get married. The Gentiles would become the “bride and the new wineskins,” and the Roman Empire became the land, that would house the Kingdom of God on earth, in secret. The rejection and the disposal of the “Jesus the Groom” would make the disciples fast, pray, and even mourn for the loss of their “Groom.” The intended bride (Judah), the Romans would disperse among the nations. The Bridegroom was the “Jesus, the King,” who had invited the bride (the Jews) to a wedding feast, but the bride had other interests. Both Luke and Matthew have Jesus use another parable with the bride refusing to be married (Luke 14:15-24; Matthew 22:1-24). We are citing Matthew’s text:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come.
Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfare, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said of the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:1-14).
AFTER THE LOSS OF THE BRIDEGROOM — THE DISCIPLES TOO WOULD FAST
Jesus, Himself, fasted in private and He encouraged his followers to do likewise (Matthew 4:2).
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).
The reason was that Jesus was taken from them for a short time and then He returned to them again. The Apostle John remembered Jesus saying these words. The Evangelist Luke linked this absence to Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection. The Risen Christ did spent forty days with his disciples (Acts 1:4).
“A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me.” Some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he means.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him; so he said to the, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Truly, truly, say to you, you will weep and lament, by the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but our sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of he child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:16-24).
WHAT AND WHY DID PEOPLE FAST IN SACKCLOTH AND ASHES?
When Joseph disappeared, Jacob put on sackcloth(Genesis 37:34). David fasted in sackcloth and ashes when his son, with Bathsheba died (II Samuel 3:31). And even the wicked king Ahab did the same (I Kings 21:27). Hezekiah fasted in sackcloth and ashes when Assyria tried to take Jerusalem, but could not (II Kings 19:1-2; Isaiah 37:1). Daniel put on sackcloth and ashes when he was given a glimpse of his beloved country that would suffer for being disloyal to their God (Daniel 9). To escape catastrophe, the whole city of Nineveh fasted in sackcloth and ashes, and their city was spared (Jonah 3). Some even shaved their heads and put ashes on (Lamentations 2:9). Jesus, too, insisted that those who refused His Message should repent in sackcloth and ashes.
Then Jesus began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24).
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:29–32).
THE TRADITION OR MERIT SYSTEM WAS THE OPPOSITE OF THE LAW
The Law protected life! And the Law also protected the bread man needed and still needs today to live. The tradition and the merit system interfere with the task the Law had to perform. Jesus made this assessment of the merit system or tradition.
Then the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And is a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:1-20). Compare with Mark 7:1-23 for additional merits the Jews collected.