Fasting and Self-Righteousness | Mark 2:18–20
18 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?” 19 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. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.
It’s easy to ignore growing pride and self-righteousness beneath a skin of religious works. While God had command only one fast (on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Lv 16:29–31, Acts 27:9), some prided themselves on fasting often (cf. Lk 18:12). Like the Israelites before them, they used religious efforts to mask their own sinful hearts (Is 58:3).
So, while it’s not immediately clear who is interrogating Jesus here, their intention seems to be condemnation. Perhaps the scribes questioning the disciples, earning His rebuke (vv. 16–17), now ask Him this question about fasting. In doing so, they now attack the disciples; Why aren’t they fasting like they should? This is no less an attack on Him, suggesting that He is leading them improperly. After all, Jesus is at Levi’s house feasting when the “righteous” are fasting.
The disciples should rejoice in the presence of the Lord! He answers their question with a question of His own, a rhetorical one framed as to expect a negative response. Obviously, it’d be inappropriate for them to fast at the joyous occasion of a wedding—no less in the presence of the groom. Since Jesus came to grant repentance for sins and salvation for all believers, His time on earth should indeed be a time of feasting.
Fasting is appropriate today. Jesus doesn’t refer to a simple departure of the bridegroom on his wedding night, but to his being snatched from the festivities. In this way, Jesus looks toward His crucifixion. While we today know that He rose again and ascended on high, interceding for all believers, we sadly do not have Him physically before us today. As history continues to decline before He establishes His kingdom on earth, we His present-day disciples have occasional cause to fast.
However, it’s easy to fall into the same trap of self-righteousness. So His disciples would avoid hypocrisy, Jesus gave instructions for fasting (Mt 6:16–18). Our religious works should never be an opportunity for self-congratulation or self-aggrandizement, but for moments of sweet communion while we await the Lord’s return.