Hosea 2:16b, 17b, 21-22;; 2 Cor 3:1b-6; Mark 2:18-22.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected -- Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?

Although there was only one day in the Jewish religion upon which fasting was compulsory -- the Day of Atonement -- stricter Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. All days of fasting lasted from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Whether Jesus and his disciples neglected to fast on one of these aforementioned days, or on additional days on which the disciples of John the Baptist or the Pharisees might have fasted is not clear. However, this story immediately follows the call of the disciple, Matthew, where Jesus sat at table with many tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps the objectors have this particular meal in mind. In any case, outside of this reference to dining, we have no mention thus far of Jesus and his disciples in a setting where they might be breaking fasting prescriptions.

Still, the lack of any denial to the accusations raised against him and the defense made by him supporting the justification for NOT fasting leads one to believe that Jesus and his disciples, indeed, did not follow such prescriptions on one or more occasions or did not measure up to the more rigorous fasts of the disciples of John the Baptist or the Pharisees.

Jesus answered them -- Can the wedding guest fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

A bit about weddings in the time of Jesus: Wedding invitations would not state a particular day or time. Instead, they would simply announce that the event was to occur at some time in the future -- meanwhile the various preparations would be made for the wedding feast -- the procuring of food, wine, musicians, decorations, fine apparel, etc. When everything had been arranged and had passed inspection, the host (usually the father of the groom), dispatched a throng of servants who would tell the invited guests that the ceremony was to begin.

Guests would arrive at the home of the bride first where there would be dancing and entertainment. When night fell, the guests, with the veiled bride and her bridesmaids, would process festively to the home of the bridegroom in a beautiful procession illuminated by torches dipped in oil. However, the bridegroom would not yet be at his home.

Later that evening, after hours of waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at his own home, a messenger would appear within earshot of the dwelling and repeatedly announce in a loud voice to the guests, to the bridesmaids and to the bride that the bridegroom was approaching. The bridegroom, who could still be a good distance away, would lead his own procession with his friends holding torches to illuminate their way. It was customary for the guests and bridesmaids to make their way out to the procession of the bridegroom carrying their own torches and to accompany him back to his home where she waited for him.

When the procession reached the home of the bridegroom the wedding ceremony would begin followed by the magnificent wedding feast which could last for days -- even a week. This week, during which the bride and bridegroom might have been addressed as prince and princess, was most likely the happiest week of their lives. To fast during this week of celebration would be unthinkable. In fact, a rabbinic ruling stated that -- All in attendance on the bridegroom are relieved of all religious observances which would lessen their joy.

Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom in this story and the key to lasting happiness and joy is to discover Christ and to stay in his company.

But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

Many scholars suggest that this verse is out of place here. That is, the forthcoming analogies using cloth and wineskins follow logically after the justification proposed by Jesus for NOT fasting whereas the above verse makes for a speed bump in this progression.

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. Likewise, 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.

These analogies have to do with the clear incompatibility of feasting and fasting. They cannot be done simultaneously.

However, these analogies also have to do with the elasticity of our minds -- the stretching of our intellect -- the ability to see something in a new way. New concepts can only be received in an inviting and flexible mind. The concept of NOT fasting while with Jesus because of who he is -- the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ, the source of all joy, is new -- it is the unshrunken piece of cloth and the new wine.

Unshrunken, new cloth sewn to an old cloak which has long ago undergone its shrinking period and has lost its elasticity will soon rip away from the cloak. The Unshrunken cloth will begin its own period of contracting and will test the strength of the thread beyond its capacity to keep old and new together.

Likewise, new wine poured into old wineskins which have lost its suppleness and its ability to expand will burst due to the gases produced in the process of fermenting.

HOMILY: Today we are not be able to experience the joy of being in the actual, physical presence of Christ -- a joy which superseded the requirement to fast. Had we owned a small fishing business based in Capernaum some 2000 years ago we might have known what it felt like to be in the physical presence of the Son of God. However, we DO have the opportunity to feel the joy of the risen Christ; but it requires us to make connections -- to look for Jesus -- to come to know him. It may require us to regenerate the elasticity of our own minds. To think anew. Has our image of Jesus and our relationship to him been frozen since our childhoods? Have the pious pictures on the holy cards of our youth locked us into a fixed model? Can we continue to grow closer to the risen Christ through music, through art, through scripture, by recognizing his spirit in each other, by following his commandment to love one another? Let us take this opportunity this weekend to take a closer look at our relationship with Christ and to ask ourselves if it can be more intimate -- if it can produce more joy for us in our lives. Is the risen bridegroom in our midst?

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