Luke 5:33-39 (ESV)
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”
Fasting was an important component of first century Judaism. The Old Testament made many references to fasting as a way to set aside physical needs to focus on the spiritual. Prayer and fasting are often mentioned together, as the purpose of both was to spend more time with God. In Jesus’ culture, those who were seen as very zealous for the Lord fasted two times a week, every Monday and every Thursday. The followers of the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist practiced routine fasting. On national fast days, the whole community of God’s people would fast together. So the curious crowd approached Jesus and asked him why their practices were different. Why weren’t the followers of Jesus fasting? Jesus replied to their question with another question. He asked them if the friends of the groom fast at the groom’s wedding. Of course not! The groom’s friends are present for the purpose of rejoicing together. When the wedding is over, the same people will fast. Jesus, the bridegroom, was physically present with his followers. In a short time, he would leave, and would not be physically with them again until the next life. During his time of absence, it would be appropriate to fast.
We hear a lot about fasting in our body-conscious culture. Although many fast, they don’t necessarily do it “for God.” Not that there is anything wrong with fasting for health reasons, but we shouldn’t confuse this with fasting for spiritual purposes. When there is a tragedy in our life, we may become so involved with the problem that we neglect to eat. Since our focus is on the issue at hand rather than food, we end up fasting. In the same way, when we choose to be so focused on God that we neglect things that are important to us, we engage in a spiritual fast. We may purposely plan not to eat, or watch TV, or engage in social media, but instead redirect our energy to God and prayer, seeking him for wisdom and guidance. We should all fast every now and then. But when we fast, keep in mind that the day is coming when we will no longer need to abstain from things to focus on God. When we are face to face with Jesus, our bridegroom, everything will be made right. Our problems will be gone, and fasting will be a thing of the past.