30th November, 2012
BRUCE C. WEARNE
Read Mark 2:18-22
PICTURE: Orlando Pinto/www.sxc.hu
Jesus encouraged people to enjoy themselves, particularly at parties, and this annoyed those who weren't wanting to enjoy themselves at a party. They felt miffed. Jesus seemed to be letting the side down.
John the Baptist and Jesus understood each other but some of John's followers thought Jesus was not taking things seriously enough. What about the fasting rules of the Old Testament? Why weren't Jesus' disciples fasting?
Apparently, John the Baptist encouraged his disciples to fast. It was part of their way of life after he had baptised them. They encouraged others to go on fasts, too. But Jesus, in the work He had been given to do, didn't encourage fasting. Maybe John’s disciples had been on a fast when Jesus was at Levi's party and they might well have been somewhat upset about a party being thrown when Jesus' cousin had been thrown into prison. Here were these people, longing for God’s Kingdom, having a rollicking good time at the party thrown by Levi, who was also a tax collector. You can hear them saying: "It's a bit off, isn’t it?"
But Jesus encouraged people to enjoy themselves, particularly at parties, and this annoyed those who weren't wanting to enjoy themselves at a party. They felt miffed. Jesus seemed to be letting the side down.
Were some of John’s followers close to joining forces with the enemies of Jesus over this issue of fasting? If John had said to fast wasn't it a good thing to do? It wasn't just about having parties. How can you just spend time enjoying yourself when there is so much injustice around?
Jesus usually had a good answer for difficult situations. But what was He getting at here? Let’s look closer. What’s this about the bridegroom and the guests? What’s all that about? Who’s the groom? Who's the bride? What’s the celebration? Remember, back at the beginning of Mark (1:15) - "After John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' He said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'" Now Jesus was not exactly saying that once you repent and believe the Good News your life becomes one long party. He was saying that we should look again at our lives and see that we are called to celebrate the goodness of the Lord. That is what life is about. We wake up every morning to a new day which has been given to us to experience afresh God's bounty. Now, the Messiah has come, the one who turns our life into a celebration!
Of course the time will come when things get hard for those servants of this King, says Jesus, those who are described as the Bride waiting for the "Big Day". In that time, what happened to John by being thrown into prison, will be a reminder to them to fast.
The ground-rules have been changed. Jesus calls upon those believing in Him to eat and drink in a firm hope that God’s promises are being fulfilled. God’s banquet is being laid out ready for all who respond to the invitation. Come and prepare yourself to meet the Groom! Come and get ready to celebrate - the announcement of the engagement has been made, the time is at hand, repent and believe the good news!
So, Jesus was saying the Kingdom of God is like a marriage. John's work in the desert had been like the announcement made by the specially chosen person that an engagement has been made. Jesus says that His time with His disciples is the “engagement party”, and as the announcement is celebrated, the Groom and the Bride make a promise to each other to wait for each other until the marriage party can be held. In Jesus' day the final marriage ceremony was held a year after the engagement party, giving the Groom's father time to make ready. Jesus used the idea of an engagement to help John's disciples, as well as the worried religious leaders, understand God's invitation to celebrate His love. Yes, it is a matter of celebrating "now" but it is also "not yet". Jesus was happy to see His disciples living and enjoying themselves, when He was with them. He was aware of the "not yet", the future. Things take time. So does a wedding; so does a marriage.
And since those who accept God's Son are "the bride", and they are called to wait while the Son waits with the Father - until the Father takes a spoon and taps the toasting glass, and calls for quiet to announce His Son's entrance - we can be sure we'll know all about it when that happens - and in the meantime our lives are to be lived in the expectation of that party, anticipating the Day when the entrance of the Bridegroom will be announced, and so we keep busy with all the good things we have been called upon to do as our preparation. That is indeed our life, a joyful preparation.
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