Day 11 – What Makes Fasting Christian?

Mark 2:18–22 SV  

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your ­disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

Consider This

Fasting is not unique to Christianity, but Christian fasting is unique. In today’s text, John’s disciples are fasting and the Pharisees are fasting. Everybody seems to be fasting, except Jesus and his disciples. So what’s the difference? Why weren’t Jesus’ disciples fasting? I think the difference has to do with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus indicated fasting would not be appropriate for his disciples as long as he was with them. Fasting would begin when Jesus ascended into heaven. My theory? For Jesus, fasting was about cultivating fellowship. As long as he had this face-to-face fellowship with his followers there would be no need to fast. Fasting would be necessary later to cultivate fellowship with Jesus (despite his physical absence) through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

For other religions, fasting seems more to be about faithfulness than fellowship. Why do Muslims fast? Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. They do it to be faithful to the requirements of their faith. Ramadan, the annual Muslim period of fasting, begins June 17 and runs through July 17. They will forego eating all day long and feast every night. Fasting for John’s disciples and fasting for the Pharisees seems also to be about faithfulness to religious duty. It’s a way to signal you are taking your religion seriously. It seems they surmised Jesus’ disciples were being less than faithful because they weren’t fasting. For Jesus, fasting was not about faithfulness. Fasting was a means to intimate fellowship.

Now to this business of wine and wineskins. I have never understood the meaning of these sayings concerning new wine and old wineskins. Only now am I even coming close to possibly approaching an insight. What if fasting for the sake of religious duty and faithfulness is the old wineskin? And what if the new wine is the Holy Spirit? Wouldn’t it make sense that the old wineskins of duty-bound religious fasting could not contain the new wine of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? Wouldn’t this call for a new kind of fasting; fasting not for the duty of faithfulness to God but for the purpose of fellowship with God? What if fasting is about focusing our attune-ment on the Holy Spirit for the sake of abiding in Jesus?

This notion of fellowship beyond faithfulness also resonates with Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:17–18 ESV).

Fasting is about the hidden delights of fellowship over public demonstrations of faithfulness.

The Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

The Questions

Are you fasting with any regularity?

If so, how might this insight about fellowship with the Holy Spirit encourage you? If not, would you like to grow in your fellowship with Jesus in the Holy Spirit?