Mark 2: 18-22 – Question about Fasting (Third Conflict Story)

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This passage seems to be central to the whole section of conflict stories in Mark 2: 1 – 3: 6. The coming of the messianic era marks a reversal of values. That is why Jesus comes into conflict with the established religion and its custodians. The present controversy is due to the fact that the disciples of Jesus do not fast while those of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees observe the practice of fasting. The question of the adversaries against the non-conformism of Jesus’ disciples with the rules and regulations of the established religion. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, which is more than what the law required, but Jesus’ disciples did not fast at all.

Jesus’ answer highlights the radical newness of the kingdom inaugurated by him. Even John the Baptist had only a role of pointing to this new reality. The imagery of the wedding feast is to show the joyful spirit of the messianic age which Jesus brings. Fasting is a sign of sorrow and mourning which cannot co-exist with the joy of the new age, with the presence of Jesus.

What Jesus is inaugurating is not a reality that can form part of the old Pharisaic religion and piety. It is something uniquely different and qualitatively new. The newness of the reality that Jesus brings is such that it resists all accommodation to that which is old and antiquated. This point is illustrated by the two figurative sayings about the new patch and the new wine (Mk 2: 21-22). The newness of the reality of the kingdom is personified in Jesus the bridegroom and with him dawns the time of messianic joy.

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