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The question about fasting

Gospel Reading: Mt 9:14-17
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”


Jesus’ reply with regard to fasting makes sense when we recognize that fasting is most often done in connection with periods of mourning or acts of sorrowful penance. There is, in other words, an appropriate time for fasting, but not when the party is in full swing. In the ministry of Jesus, all the stops have been pulled out in celebration of God’s presence and the joyful activity of the Kingdom of heaven. To fast when Jesus is around is to weep at a victory celebration.

There will come a time, of course, when fasting will be fitting, when Jesus is no longer present, “when the bridegroom is taken away from them” (v 15). This surely refers to Jesus’ coming violent death, when the disciples will mourn, but it may also refer to the experience of the Church, whose service in a broken world includes fasting, sharing in the sorrow and suffering of the world while anticipating in hope the approaching victory of God’s Kingdom (cf Mt 6:16-18).

Jesus ends his remarks to John’s disciples with two images describing the incompatibility between new and old: sewing a patch on a garment and putting wine into wineskins (cf vv 16-17).

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).

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