Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Great Expectations

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

“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 2:18-22

A thread runs through these first two chapters of Mark that I have yet to point out, and that is that Jesus was offensive to many in His day, especially those of the religious elite. Since verse twenty-one of chapter one, Mark has been piling up one on top of the other, almost without a break, all of the offensive things Jesus has been doing. Allow me to give a quick summary. In 1:21-31, Jesus casts out a demon on the Sabbath in the synagogue and then follows it up by healing Simon Peter's mother-in-law later that afternoon (healing on the Sabbath would soon become a serious point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees, see Mark 3:1-6.) In 1:41 He touches a man with leprosy. Then in chapter two, He claims to have the power to forgive sins (2:10), calls a tax collector as one of His twelve disciples (2:14), is found to be consorting and eating with sinners and tax collectors (2:15), and now it is discovered that His disciples are not fasting as often as the other religious men are.

It seems that Jesus didn't live up to the expectations of those in His day. How can it be then that the church teaches that Jesus was perfect? Simple. Jesus always lived up to God's expectations. He didn't always live up to man's expectations. You see God only required the Israelites to fast one time a year on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16:1-34), but the Pharisees had taken to fasting Monday and Thursday of every week.* This was a man made tradition. (Interestingly enough Lane posits that John's disciples may have been fasting as "an expression of repentance designed specifically to hasten the coming of the time of redemption" or the Messiah.) It is obvious then, that Jesus and His disciples had no reason to fast, especially if the fasts were designed to hasten the coming of the Messiah. That would be like fasting at a wedding feast, Jesus says. The Messiah has come! This should be a time of rejoicing, not of mourning.

From the beginning of Mark, Jesus' message has been that "The time has come; the kingdom of God has come near." This new situation in the world calls for a new ordering of our lives. The old traditions cannot contain this new and amazing thing that God is doing in Christ. Jesus likens it to putting a patch made of new cloth on a garment made of old cloth. The old cloth has already shrunk, but the cloth in the patch, being new, has not. Therefore, when the garment is laundered the patch will shrink and create a worse tear in the garment than was there originally. Similarly, Jesus says that you don't put new wine in old wineskins. As the grape juice in wine ferments it expands. New wineskins are elastic enough to expand with the wine, but old skins have already expanded once and are no longer elastic. If you put new wine in an old skin, the wine will expand beyond the ability of the skin and burst it. So too, Jesus is telling His contemporaries that their old ways of thinking about God and His kingdom are not big enough to contain all that God is doing now. They need a new paradigm...a new way of thinking about God's work in the world and His redemption of fallen man.

This passage is a good reminder that sometimes (only sometimes) when we don't live up to the expectations of the people around us, that says more about their expectations than it does about us. It is also a good warning against placing a higher priority on our traditions than on the Word of God? What personal preferences do you place a higher priority on than what the Bible actually says? Do you need to ask God to change your way of thinking so that you can better understand all that He is doing in our world now? Lord, make us new that we might be able to expand with Your work in this world as it ever expands to the ends of the earth and the coming of the age!

For further reading...

  • John 12:42-43- Some of the saddest words in all the Bible! Whose expectations are you trying to meet?
  • Matthew 15:1-9- Jesus points out a tradition of men that they were placing above the Bible. I have often wondered in what ways we do the same in our own day. 

*Lane, William L., The Gospel of MarkThe New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1974. 

No comments: