Remember those tests that involved reasoning skills. The test would ask 1:2 as 3:? Read “One is to two as three is to what? How are things related and could we see the reason for the sequence and what the next number would be. The text today shares that John’s disciples ask Jesus about the spiritual discipline of fasting. Jesus, as usual, challenges our reasoning and does not give a direct answer that defines fasting and that would then probably result in a New Testament law about how and when to do….anything. He reflects a scenario back to the disciples that forces them to think about context and motives and what their real question is.
A wedding is not the time to fast but to celebrate. He equates himself to the bridegroom, an image that is used elsewhere in the gospels. He did not negate fasting but delved into context. It would appear he is not talking about dieting!! We might explain it as fasting is for developing or deepening relationship, not for celebrating relationship.
Next Jesus compares fasting with patching a torn cloth with new, unshrunk material. Perhaps Jesus is asking if our motive for fasting is like trying to fix an issue with fasting, just finding a solution. A patch may cover a hole or a tear and helps us extend the life of the cloth but it does not change the problem. Fasting is not to cover up a problem or perhaps trying to make something work that is torn and ruined.
The third comparison is to wineskins. Perhaps this might be using fasting to find a new solution to an old question. I think I might fail the reasoning test here. In any case I would suggest that Jesus does not give a rule about fasting, deny the value of fasting. He gives us picture to think about.
“14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ 15 And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’ (Matthew 9:14-17)”
As you think about the spiritual disciplines that you might use and those you could use but aren’t, perhaps you might sense a challenge. Fasting from watching TV to the wee hours but rather spending time in prayer before bed? Fasting from that last cup of coffee to help you get through the day? Be creative about where you might put in a little extra time focusing on your relationship with God as we come into Lent next week. Blessings.