In the musical Fiddler On The Roof, the big-hearted Tevye cherishes his Jewish heritage. It brings him a sense of pride and vigor. He relishes the possibility that if only others could embrace his beliefs and ideals the world would be happy and right. I can hear Tevye singing “Tradition”, can’t you? Tevye is attempting to content himself with life and is determined to watch his dreams unfold especially within the lives of his family. However, Tevye’s daughters are making decisions which threaten those dreams. One daughter, Chava, wants to break with the norm by marrying Fyedka, a Christian! And, Tevye’s world begins to unravel.
Jesus and the disciples find themselves in contrast with a lot of serious minded Tevyes in Mark’s episode in 2:16-22. It’s as if Jesus is from El Dorado, Arkansas (uhh, where’s that exactly) and the Pharisees live in the New York City of that era, Jerusalem. Jesus is like the Mike Huckabee who surprises the political commentariat and emerges as a contender for the removal of those presently in power, with his Galilean drawl and all the quirks that create stereotypes. The sophistication of the Pharisaical class compels people to admire and revere their piety. They’re fasting again (twice per week) and it appears that even John the Baptist’s disciples follow suit. People see John the Baptist’s disciples fasting and the apprentices of the Pharisees fasting but Jesus and his disciples look backward and rude. Why are they not observing the fast like everyone else? Why does someone who’s been announcing the kingdom of God abstain from what appears to be greater devotion to the Almighty?
Traditional minded Jews are incredulous. To them, Jesus is contaminating himself. He’s repulsive. In Mark 2:16-22 the Tevyes of Israel are upset but Jesus and the disciples are depicted as having a feeling of optimism. The truth we’ll learn here in Mark is that Jesus, the “backwoods boy”, is more loyal to God than all of these disciples with their impressive sacrifices.
Mark 2:18-22 “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do the disciples of both John and the Pharisees fast but yours don’t?” Jesus said, “Can the wedding guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? Of course not. They will fast when the time comes that the bridegroom will be taken away from them. No one sews a new patch on an old garment. If so, the patch tears away and rips the old garment. The same goes for new wine in old wineskins. The new wine will be ruined, as well as the skins. Fresh wine is for fresh skins.” (paraphrased ESV)
The people are confused. Why would Jesus and his band of followers break with tradition? It makes no sense!
Jesus is cryptic again. A typical wedding with a strange twist. Old garments that can’t be patched up. And, wineskins that have seen their day.
Celebration, love, vitality, hope, and joy, among other things, characterize weddings, or at least they should. Two people are actually two worlds which are being melded together. Two individualistic paths are forsaken for a new and often uncharted trek. Jesus begins with the analogy of groomsmen in anticipation of their good friend’s marriage. Theologically speaking, the marriage of heaven and earth, or the union of the kingdom of heaven and humanity, is happening right in front of everyone’s eyes. Two worlds were engaged and many didn’t approve of the fiancee. This new love didn’t allow any room for self-absorbed piety.
Fasting twice per week gave those with the ability, the appearance of spiritual towers. In reality, few could afford this. Many of those whom Jesus eats with (tax collectors and sinners, 2:15) are not observing the fasts most likely because they are truly hungry, not rebellious. Yet for others, Jesus allows an impression of protest. However, these sinners are sinners because they force themselves to work Sabbaths in order to provide income and even then they often fail to feed their families. How did all of this get to be so bad? Many Pharisees are landowners and are making their cousins from Abraham slaves by acquiring as much real estate as they can. Where does their wealth come from? Those Israelites are now indebted to them because they cannot produce enough. The Sabbath was given for man and not the other way around. The Sabbath guaranteed that Israelites were not to be enslaved by their own people just as they were enslaved by the Egyptians and forced to work 24/7. Loan or debt forgiveness were law of Moses also but was this policy being enforced by the Pharisees, the rulers of the Jews? Of course, not. These sinners that sat at tables with Jesus and the former treasonous tax collectors were sinners as well because of their indebtedness caused by Temple/government policies and regulations. Jesus, the unsophisticated young man from the boonies, was being misjudged and demonized. He ate what the land produced by God’s grace with “tradition breakers.” Surely, the politicians of the Temple understood that God provided enough for everyone but allowed themselves to be blinded by their love for money. Jesus’ response to the people who ask about his abstinence from regular fasts is impressive. Its as if he’s saying, “Does God enjoy ‘self-sacrifices’ when his people are being discriminated and marginalized?” Therefore, Jesus wasn’t separating himself from Moses’ constitution at all. People were just alarmed at his audacity to dismiss the status quo, the traditions being imposed upon the culture.
The nature of the true kingdom of God (monarchy of Israel) is being witnessed through Jesus’ symbolic actions. Tensions surface when Jesus exposes the calloused heart of the current powerbrokers in Israel. How can God’s justice and mercy (which Jesus assumes is natural) fit into systematic corruption? It can’t. When the Pharisees and scribes scrutinize tithing trends (money) instead of prioritizing faith, justice and generosity toward others it is like a new patch sewn on an old garment. Worldviews are clashing. The dangerous aspect for many in Israel is that they cannot recognize God’s worldview. God’s love can still fit into hearts and minds that have already been warped but only if they have receptive hearts and minds. So, Jesus’ disciples are enjoying the liberation movement they’re experiencing but one day the groom will be taken from them. Is this a prediction of Jesus’ suffering?
The creation of Adam was the coronating ceremony of heaven and earth, of God and humanity. God did not create the cosmos and then leave mankind alone to govern the world selfishly. Unfortunately, Adam fractured the enterprise of human success. Israel failed to lead the world back to the rule of heaven. They failed at fulfilling humanity’s vocation, to be the image of God in the world, to govern the world in righteousness, generosity, faith, and love. Jesus doesn’t fail. With Jesus, heaven (the sovereignty of God) is ‘marrying’ earth and creating a new family, and the concept of a new order requires discerning hearts and minds. It’s completely new thinking for those stuck in contemporary traditionalistic mindsets. Jesus came to bring forgiveness of sins, new life, and hope, but people were set in their traditional ways, and they couldn’t imagine an overhaul of creation. New creation was coming and in front of them all stood the new Adam but who was able to recognize him?
We all know how difficult it can be to introduce new ideas into old or traditional ways of thinking, especially with regard to our belief systems. We live in a world of big-hearted Trevyes. Yet, aren’t there ‘fasts’, psychologic strongholds, within our culture that rely on faulty old wisdom that destroys our societies? Yet, Jesus wasn’t a philosopher offering critiques and reforms. Jesus was introducing a new government for the entire world and it was poking the bears of his era.