They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” (Luke 5:33-39)
H. L. Menken wrote of Puritans that they were the sort of people that had “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.” The Pharisees were the Puritans of Jesus’ day, wondering why the disciples were so happy.
The Pharisees usually set aside a day each week for fasting. And they made certain that everyone could tell. They didn’t comb their hair, they didn’t bathe, and they kept a pained expression on their faces so that everyone could see just how devoted they were to God.
Since the Pharisees never saw the disciples acting so miserable, they believed that they—and Jesus—must not be properly devoted to God. There was a lot behind the Pharisees’ simple question about fasting. They were attacking Jesus credibility and his commitment to religion.
The Pharisees failed to recognize the reality of their situation. Fasting and praying, of the sort that the Pharisees had in mind, was what people did when things were going badly, when someone was seriously ill, or when a war was on the horizon. It was proper to fast during Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It wasn’t proper to fast during Purim or First Fruits, times for rejoicing. Jesus’ disciples had no reason to feel glum: the Messiah was here and they were with him. When you’re at a wedding and you’re part of the wedding party, is that the time to fast? Don’t be ridiculous.
There are, indeed, times to mourn, but there are also times to rejoice!