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The question about fasting

Gospel Reading: Lk 5:33-39
The scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And he also told them a parable. “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.

Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”


Fasting in Judaism is a major rite of piety. Highly regarded as an act of worship, it is done at major events, like the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:29, 31). A four-day fast accompanies a commemoration of the fall of Jerusalem (Zec 7:3, 5; 8:19). Fasts usually involve penitence, mourning, or a plea for deliverance. Pharisees fast twice a week (Lk 18:12). Fasting is typically a one-day affair. However, a fast may run three days or even three weeks (Est 4:16; Dn 10:2-3). In Judaism of Jesus’ time, fasting is regarded as a virtue (Testament of Joseph 3:4-5; 1 Enoch 108:7-9). The failure of Jesus’ disciples to fast could be read as reflecting a lack of respect for God, a severe absence of piety.

Jesus not only explains why he does not fast, he also gives the deep significance of the refusal. The picture he uses is a wedding – a symbol often used to describe God’s relationship with his people (Is 54:5-6; 62:4-5; Jer 2:2; Ez 16). Since the groom is present and the wedding is taking place, it is ridiculous to mourn or seek deliverance. But in the future, the groom will be taken from them; fasting will be appropriate then. Here is the first hint in Luke of Jesus’ approaching passion.

When the groom is gone, then God’s people will long for the completion of redemption (cf Rom 8:17-30; 1 Cor 15:20-28).

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