‘FAST- forward’ – Friday, 22nd week in ordinary time – Lk 5:33-39
The setting of today’s Gospel is the home of Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:29). Having experienced a conversion to repentance Levi throws a banquet for Jesus in his house and present are a ‘crowd’ of tax collectors. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has come to call all and that included sinners. However, this calling was not merely some ‘happy-clappy’ calling but a ‘call to repentance’ (5: 32). The grace of God is FREE, but make no mistake, it is not CHEAP!
Interestingly, seated among the ‘guests’ are the ‘Pharisees and their scribes’. One wonders what these purists were doing, sitting in the same company of those whom they considered sinners. Perhaps it was their desire to take down Jesus that made them compromise on their own beliefs for we are told that “they came from every village of Galilee and from Jerusalem.” (5:17)
Having lost the first argument to Jesus about His fellowship meal with Levi and the other sinners the Jews now train their guns to cause division among Jesus’ disciples. They compare his disciples with his cousin Johns the Baptists’ disciples. The disciples of John the Baptist are drawn into the same corner of the disciples of the Pharisees as ones who fast and pray frequently while the disciples of Jesus are portrayed as gluttons and drunkards. Incidentally, the theme of ‘eating and drinking’ runs all through the Gospel of Luke prompting one commentator to say that ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospel’.
In any case, an unsavoury accusation has been thrown at Jesus to portray His brand of teaching as one that strays away from that which is practiced by the Pharisees. It is important to note that the Jews observed two great national fasts; however the pious Jews voluntarily fasted twice a week. It is this weekly fasting that is made to sound normative of pious behaviour.
Jesus responds by evoking the imagery of the Old Testament. The figure of the bridegroom was applied in the OT and Judaism to represent God’s union with his people and that union was embodied in the coming of the Messiah who was often referred to as ‘the bridegroom’.
What then is the need for the ‘bridegrooms disciples’ to fast when the object of their fast was in their midst? Now that Jesus ‘the bridegroom’ was in their midst He brought into focus the beliefs and practices of the Old Testament Law. In short, Jesus wanted His listeners to apply a ‘new mind’ to the ‘new message’ He had come to give. This does not mean that the law has been discarded (Luke 5:39) for “ it is good” but requires a new mind-set and approach with the coming of ‘the bridegroom’, Jesus.
The resistance in putting on a new mind-set to the message of Jesus was as futile as pouring new wine in old wineskins or sewing a patch of new cloth on an old garment. If you pour new wine in old wineskins the new wine will ferment and the expansion would burst the skins which have already been worn out by previous expansions. So too with the new piece of cloth which will shrink and tear the old garment. Jesus did not come to promote a compromise formula of faith, His approach was not some patch work formula but rather one that came with newness of thought yet respectful of the commandments of old.
We must understand and not misunderstand the mind of Jesus. Nowhere is Jesus permitting us to do away with fasting. In the Gospel of Matthew we are exhorted to fast with the words, “when you fast do not put on a gloomy look”. Jesus is not limiting fasting to ‘IF you fast’ but mandating it as a way of life. However He is clear that there is a time, a season and an understanding for all our actions. Fasting is a value if it is done for the right reasons. We should fast, because we are in need of His mercy and His help.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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