Luke 5:33-34 (see Matthew 9:15 – Question #11) – They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” NIV
The people asking Jesus questions were “the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.” This question to Jesus follows some conversation with Jesus’ disciples after he went in to Levi (or Matthew) the tax collector’s house to socialize with some of Matthew’s friends. This was Matthew’s retirement party. Jesus had invited Levi (Matthew) to follow Him, and he did! It was a time for celebrating and sharing Matthew’s story and Jesus’ invitation. But some people weren’t happy about the situation.
Instead of celebrating, they thought that Jesus and His disciples ought to be doing something religious like fasting and praying. They even used John the Baptist as an example. Jesus didn’t deny that there is a time for fasting and praying; but He affirmed that there is also a time for celebration. He used the example of a wedding and the celebration that went with that occasion. The guests are to be in a festive mood. A new family has been formed in the presence of the community. It is a time to celebrate.
It was the same for Levi (Matthew). He had made a decision to follow Jesus that meant that he was born again into God’s forever family! It was reason to celebrate! In addition, he wanted to give his coworkers the opportunity to meet Jesus for themselves. It was a reason to celebrate! This was not the time to fast and pray. It was the time to engage in evangelism or telling the Good News of what a difference knowing Jesus can make in one’s life. At the same time Jesus frankly admitted that there would be plenty of times that His followers would need to fast and pray.
There is certainly a lesson here that could be based on Ecclesiastes 3:1 and the following verses. It begins: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: …” (NIV). There is a time for celebrating and inviting others to join in the celebration even if they do not yet share our faith in Jesus … weddings, baptisms, Resurrection Day (Easter) Celebrations, Christmas festivities, and Sunday worship… not just in our church, but in our homes and their homes. People need to see that following Jesus is not a downer but life giving. Sometimes Christ-followers fail to celebrate enough that the Lord is good and there are blessings in following Him. The result can be that the world fails to see the joy in following Jesus. They only see the religious ritual, hear the religious jargon, and feel the condemnation from people that follow Jesus. Jesus was not afraid of those who didn’t yet follow Him. He viewed being with them as an opportunity.
Certainly, in Jesus’ life, there were many times when the Bible records that He prayed and sometimes fasted…probably praying for the world, His enemies, and people who were spiritually unaware. Yet He balanced those times with celebration of changed lives and the opportunities to interact with people who were curious about what that meant.
Some questions us: What are some ways that I celebrate life with other people? How balanced is my life between fasting & praying and eating with sinners? What might the Holy Spirit be asking me to do to bring more balance? What are some ways that our congregation could express more joy at the appropriate times? What are some ways that our congregation could better fast and pray at the appropriate times?