That Jesus did not require his disciples to fast, to be honest, is quite confusing. He was after all born into a devout family of the Torah, his mother Mary was consecrated to the temple, and his cousin John’s family also were devoted to that temple. One would think from His background that Jesus would have been a more devoted follower of the Law. What, I wonder would have caused him to shift from that law? That the gospel writers included this snippet of the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees with regard to the law highlights the importance of this break from the law. Before reading the answer Jesus gives, I think it might be worth looking into the culture of the day, and particular Jewish culture within Judea.
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
On one side there was temple culture, dominated by the Temple priests, and their associates the Temple Scribes, and supporters the Sadducee’s. Another component of that culture was those Pharisees. Their background had its origins with the Babylonian exile when those chosen people were denied access to the Temple. Their tradition is the beginning of the synagogue and Rabbinical. Judaism. They also were known to hold a strong nationalistic bent, and were largely an insular culture. With that background describing those that ask the question, gives hint at why they had directed that question to Christ. They held a position of prestige among the community as teachers, and they also wrote many of the laws that those people were required to follow. Finally, their laws and teachings frequently had the objective of unifying those people and isolating them from the countries invaders. Their laws had that agenda of nation building. Jesus though, in His message of the Kingdom of God, has no Nationalistic interest. His is simply to lead people back to God. His message was to rejoice, for the Kingdom of God was at hand. His kingdom, from the beginning, was not simply to restore the earthly kingdom of David, but to restore the relationship between those people and their God.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Jesus went one step further than those Pharisees when preaching to His disciples. His message was not simply to those of the old covenant, and it was not directed at those who met the strict requirements to get into heaven. His message was directed at all who could hear the word of God and obey it. If the Pharisees promoted a nationalistic ideology, and an exclusivity for those worthy to enter Gods grace, Jesus opened the gates to all. His Kingdom of God knew no borders. It allowed for Jew and Gentile, and it allowed for precisely those the Pharisees distanced themselves from. If the landscape of Judea was complex with all the fractions of Judaism, compound that complexity with that of the roman occupation, and the Hellenic influences, along with the indigenous religions of the region! For Jesus’s followers the repentant sinner, and the leper had access to that Kingdom. For Him Gods kingdom knew no borders, it was Gods creation obedient to their creator. It was Gods people, all people, that were open to the love of God. That is a new covenant, not simply the old one repaired.
“no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
With those new wine skins, that new covenant that Jesus is preaching, one can’t forget about how that old covenant was forged. From the exodus, and through every conflict those followers of Moses endured, they are frequently described as purified like fire tried gold. They are separated from the rock of this earth through their fidelity to their God. It is that fidelity that defines them, even more than their heritage. In Jesus’s discussion with the Pharisees though, might he see their interests and that nationality they promoted, as Gods chosen people becoming ingrained in the soil they occupied rather than maintaining their fidelity to God? Is not the characteristic of “fire tried gold” that it leaves the dirt behind, and advances towards the will of God. Then question then becomes is a fidelity to God a birthright, or an obligation of all Gods servants? In that Kingdom of God, we are all Gods servants. The word Catholic does mean universal, but in regards to what? One line of though simply points that word towards the universal religion of the ancient Roman empire. Doesn’t that though regress to the mindset of the ancient nationalism of the Pharisee? There is then another way to view that word. That way is not to look at it as a universal religion of an empire, but to look at it as a religion of universal truths that advance one towards that fidelity to God. The religion then is the repository of truths that define the faith. Jesus did say I am the way, the truth, and the light. The Way is the ancient name of Church, the truth is what He preached, and the light is what he advanced his disciples towards. That is something to think about when thinking of Christian unity, for Christian unity really was not the mission. The mission was uniting all of Gods people in advancement towards their God.All of Gods people are all people,and uniting them without violence is truly reason to rejoice.