A time to fast- Monday, 2nd Week in ordinary time – Mark 2:18-22
Today we read the third of the five conflict stories that the evangelist narrates and this time the opponents of Jesus are the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. While the focus of the passage seems to be about the religious practice of fasting, Mark uses this opportunity to present Jesus as the Messiah whose public ministry takes place in this ‘special time’ in which the old forms of religious practices were not appropriate.
The issue at hand seems to be that of fasting. John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast while Jesus’ disciples do not. Interestingly the targets of Jesus’ opponents are now made out to be His disciples and not Him. However, it is clear that He is the intended target, for his disciples were merely a reflection of Him and if they did not fast, then the suggestion implied was that He did not fast.
The fasting practiced by the Jews was merely a traditional religious practice. The only fast that was stipulated in the Old Testament was the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees however observed additional fasts on the second and fifth day of the week and imposed the same on everyone else.
So what then is this passage all about? Jesus begins his ministry in Mark’s Gospel with the proclamation that “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near!” Having announced that time, He now announces that He is the messianic bridegroom, His public ministry is a ‘special time’ in which the old forms of religious practices were not appropriate.
One should not assume that Jesus is merely some itinerant preacher running around trying to subvert ritual boundaries by destroying the traditional practices by introducing something completely new. He is here to align the real practice of the faith with what God wants for His people. These human religious traditions often have little to do with God and much to do with pandering to human need.
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