“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
The scribes and the Pharisee were trying to discredit Jesus by pointing out how his actions and practices were different from theirs. Their previous attempt had only served to illustrate how corrupt and misplaced their values were but they had not given up. In their next attempt them enticed the disciples of John the Baptist to question Jesus and his disciples neglect of fasting.
Both the Pharisees and the disciples of John practiced fasting in an attempt to merit the favor and blessing of God. The most devout among them often fasted for two days each week. It was on one of these fast days that the disciples of John came to Jesus with their thinly veiled accusation of impiety.
Part of what was motivating their animosity toward Jesus was the fact that their teacher was at that time imprisoned by Herod and Jesus did nothing to secure his freedom and said very little in support of him. Knowing that John’s disciples were confused by their teacher’s situation and mourning his absence, and the uncertainty of his fate, Jesus was very gentle in his answer to them.
Jesus didn’t try to correct John’s disciples misuse of fasting. Instead, he sought to raise their understanding of his own mission, and he honored John the Baptist by employing John’s own words to do so. John had employed the figure of a bridegroom to explain how he could rejoice when his ministry was being overshadowed by the ministry of Jesus. Now his disciples can’t help but recall this as Jesus employs the same imagery.
“Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Now was not the time for mourning. Christ was with them. Now was the time to rejoice in his presence and learn from him and grow closer to heaven because the Lord of Heaven was in their midst.
But this situation would always exist for Jesus’ disciples and Jesus’ answer includes that reality. “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Christ had come to suffer and die that he might pay the penalty of humanity’s sin. When that time came his disciples, like John’s, would also mourn and fast.
But even with this all is not to be sadness for us. Christ has secured our salvation. Our debt has been paid. By his death and resurrection Christ has made a way for us to be restored to unity with our Heavenly Father. In this there should be rejoicing. Our joy is full because of all that Christ has done. We should fast so that we can be released of the baggage that would interfere with our obtaining all of Christ, and we should rejoice that the fullness of Christ is ours to obtain.