Monday, January 19, 2009

The Wedding Feast Will Go On As Long As The Bridegroom Is There

Some people came to Jesus and asked him a question: “Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?” Typically, Jesus answered their question with another question: “Do guests at a wedding fast while the bridegroom is with them? No, so long as the bridegroom is there, they can’t fast. The wedding feast will go on as long as the bridegroom is there.”

If you have ever been a guest at a wedding, you have some idea of what Jesus is saying. Typically, the wedding banquet goes on until the bridegroom and his bride say farewell, and then it moves more quickly to the end. But in Jesus’ day, a wedding did not begin in the Temple or in the synagogue in a town outside of Jerusalem. The wedding took place in the bridegroom’s home, and after the vows were exchanged, the young couple did not go away on a honeymoon; they stayed at the bridegroom’s home, now the couple’s home, and there was a house party which lasted for an entire week. A rabbinical precept stated that “Everyone in attendance at the wedding is free from all religious observances that might lessen their joy.”

Consider, if you will, the wedding feast at Cana, recounted in John’s gospel. The party had been going on for three days, and there was no more wine. Jesus ordered that six stone water jars each holding 20 or 30 gallons be filled with water, and he transformed between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine that was considerably better than the wine the groom had furnished earlier.

Today, though, Jesus is using the wedding feast as a metaphor. So long as Jesus is present among his disciples, it is like a wedding, when fasting, and sadness, are out of place. But the day is coming when he will no longer be with them, and then, fasting and mourning will be appropriate.

There are good reasons why a follower of Christ might fast, in his own time and in ours. But Jesus reminds his disciples not to adopt a somber and gloomy attitude when they are fasting. “When you fast do not look gloomy. Instead, wash your face; shampoo and cream rinse your hair, so that no one can see that you are fasting, except your Father, who sees what is hidden. And your Father, who sees what is hidden, will reward you.

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