Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mark 2:18-22 - Not so fast!

I'm probably not someone people would describe as being 'traditional'.  The fact is there are some things about certain traditions that are valuable and well worth hanging on to whereas other aspects are well worth leaving behind because their time has passed.  In today's passage, Jesus mentions the tradition of fasting (which usually means going without food to make time for prayer)...

Mark 2:18-22

Jesus continues to arouse people's interest by his actions and teachings and he seems to enjoy receiving people's questions here, even when they suggest that he's got it wrong by not towing the line.  He's not fitting their religious mould very well and Jesus seems to be quite deliberately different.  For some reason it's as if he thinks the religious rules and expectations don't apply to him.  Well, that's probably because they don't!  And Jesus doesn't mind explaining why...

When they ask Jesus why his followers don't fast, he says it wouldn't make any sense because of who he is.  The main reason people fasted (if they had the right motives) was to make a special point of drawing close to God in prayer but if God is standing right next to them, why bother?  They'd be mad to try and get any closer to God by missing meals when God himself is having dinner with them!  This is a special time in history where God has turned up in the flesh and for those who had realised it, it was a time for awe and celebration.  Their usual habits and traditions pretty much went out the window because all they could do was watch Jesus' every move and hang on every word he said.  They didn't want to miss a thing.

Interestingly (although this is far from the main point), Jesus isn't saying the tradition of fasting is a bad thing.  He says there will be a time for fasting when he leaves (v20).  Presumably this is because fasting will be useful and appropriate once more and this does make sense bearing in mind what we've already said.

Jesus then illustrates what he's saying about the place of traditions now that he's here.  Just as they would not have poured new wine into old wineskins, they would be unwise to try and make Jesus fit their old traditions because Jesus is a brand new part of God's plan that was being revealed.  What they needed to do was stop everything (even their religious traditions that had plenty of value if done with the right motives) and follow Jesus.  It's as if Jesus is saying, "I'm like new wine and if you try and fit me into your tiny old traditions, I'll just burst right out of them and leave them in tatters like old wine skins.  Look - I'm God.  Are you really going to tell me what my followers should be doing?" What they need is a brand new understanding, a brand new frame of reference - brand new wineskins for this new wine.

We have our own traditions too.  Everyone does.  Our culture does.  I heard one person recently describe our culture's traditions as 'the sausage factory'.  Everyone's on a production line that goes from school, to college, to uni then work then maybe marriage (but not necessarily) and family, etc.  And there's this urge to be as wealthy as possible along the way and end up having lots of cool stuff.  Lots of people's decisions seem to be automatic because it's what's expected and does anyone stop to ask - 'Isn't there a better way?'  How many people are stuck in their jobs, waiting for 5 o'clock every day and waiting for the weekend when their life begins?  How many people would do their jobs for free if they didn't need money?  Would you?

I'm not saying all these things are bad.  They're just some of the most common things that we're expected to do in our culture and if that's what God wants for you then that's great (really it is)!  But what if it isn't?  What if God wants to break into the cycle and do something new, something bigger, something better?  What if your life is more important than just another sausage in the factory?

Let's make sure we're watching God's every move rather than trying to inflict our expectations on him.  Let's watch what Jesus does next and be ready and willing to drop things if that's what we need to do!

Mark blog