image001-2Jesus was still the “popular Christ” in this second section of Mark. The crowds were still flocking. They continued to marvel at his teachings and his miracles.

But from this point on, and consistently, the religious authorities appeared on the stage, hovering about the periphery of Jesus’ ministry. Teachers of the Law. Pharisees. Guardians of the Torah. Defenders of Sinai. In this thirty-four verse section of Mark (2:1-3:6), their presence was mentioned (by name) eight different times.

They did not come sniffing around at first. Not until the twitter began, the news spread, and the excitement rose. “What is this?” they wanted to know finally. “Who is this? What is he saying? Does he pass the litmus test of our orthodoxy?”

And they were not so easily fooled as the clodish, credulous crowds. They listened and were not impressed. They watched and did not like what they saw. They did not care for the way Jesus conducted himself. They did not appreciate his loosey-goosey attitude towards their traditions.

Let the crowds rave and fawn. The religious authorities were there to balance the adoration of the multitudes with their deep-seated concern and their unrelenting criticism.

A Time to Feast

Jesus is feasting. He’s eating every time you turn around in Mark’s Gospel. He attends parties. He enters homes to sit at table. He sups with sinners. He dines with disciples. He shares bread with hungry crowds. He eats, eats, eats.

Meanwhile, those who are truly dedicated to God are fasting. Twice a week, whether they like it or not. On every high and holy day. A dose of deprivation. A measure of self-denial. Abstemiousness as proof of piety. The rigorously righteous, the seriously saintly, are fasting, fasting, fasting.

In this third ‘controversy’ story (Mark 2:18-22), “some people” approach the disciples to ask, “Why doesn’t your Master fast?” The contrast between fasting and feasting, privation and indulgence, has grown too stark. Though the particular “people” who come asking are not identified by Mark, it is probable that the “people” who raise this question are the same religious authorities who have questioned Jesus before (2:1-17) and who will question Jesus next (2:23-3:6).

Jesus is not embarrassed by their question. He is not defensive. He feels no urge to prove his devotion to God. Far from it, Jesus goes on the attack and answers their question with boldness and verve.

“There is a time for fasting and a time for feasting. Your problem is you don’t know what time it is. This is the season for feasting and dancing and rejoicing. A wedding is taking place. The bridegroom is still present. The party is still going on. You don’t wear your funeral clothes, your funeral face, to a wedding.

“There is a season of mourning to come”(the first reference to the Cross in Mark). “The bridegroom will be taken away. The wedding feast will end. But that time is not now. And,for the moment, fasting is inappropriate.”

It’s what he says next, however, that really addresses the poison in their question—the assumptions and attitudes that lie beneath—and truly offends their religious sensibilities.

“You don’t know what spiritual time it is either. Your day is past and gone. Your old wineskins—your traditions, your habits, your rituals and routines—were perfectly appropriate for an older time, an older wine. But times have changed. And now a new wine of God is being poured out on the world, a new wine that old wineskins will never contain. New skins are required to hold new wine—fresh attitudes and innovative practices.

“But you don’t know what time it is. You will cling to your old ways no matter the cost to the kingdom. You will never embrace the pliable, flexible, adaptable ways of the kingdom’s future.”

Wrapping themselves in their favored traditions, the religious authorities walked away, harrumphing at the notion that new skins could ever be as pleasing to God as the ruts that would become their graves.

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