Leah and I have been reading and studying through the gospel of mark. We haven’t gotten very far, but we have learned quite a few things. We drove to Winnipeg last Tuesday, stayed in a hotel, got our car cleared from the steering column recall, and drove back to Thompson. Thats an eight hour trip both ways. Once you get out of Winnipeg, there are about 2 1/2 hours of very small farm towns, then 5 1/2 hours of trees. Needless to say, its a long drive. But Leah and I got to talking about Mark chapter two on the way back and Leah had some really good insights.
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.”
Now for a while, I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about with the old cloth and new wine and all that stuff. But after thinking about it and talking it over with Leah, I think we figured it out. Of course we could be a million miles off, but I don’t think so.
See the Pharisees ask why Jesus’ disciples aren’t doing what they thought was an important part of their religion. Fasting. The Pharisees thought it was of great importance that everyone fasts. It was beyond their comprehension that a group of people who are supposedly serving God would not partake in this really important task.
This isn’t unlike Christians questioning why some churches don’t do an altar call every Sunday, why some churches don’t expect their members to wear suits and dresses on Sundays, or why we get rid of some traditions and/or change the way we do certain things.
Jesus’ answer wasn’t that fasting was outdated and irrelevant, it was that fasting wasn’t appropriate for the disciples at that time. You don’t fast when your celebrating with the groom, do you?? Sometimes what others expect is the norm is inappropriate for the people to whom we are ministering.
One time I attached an iron on patch to a pair of jeans I had. This iron on patch did really well until i washed the jeans. Then it was all shriveled up and didn’t do a very good job of covering the hole.
I think that this idea applies to ministry. Sometimes what other groups of people deem as appropriate, even necessary, is completely inappropriate when ministering to certain groups of people. In youth ministry, what worked ten years ago doesn’t necessarily work anymore.
If I were to take a first nation teenage boy who is into hip-hop culture and probably interested in joining a gang and force him into our old wineskin (aka our white, very much non-hip-hop church), what does Jesus say will happen??
We’ll explode (burst is the word the ESV uses, but I like explode better). And destroy the kid in the process.
Maybe we won’t explode, but its clear that it won’t do much help for the kid. Just like fasting wouldn’t do much good for Jesus and his disciples and the people who he was ministering to: the poor, orphans, widows, sinners, tax collectors. The disciples would fast at some point or another when it would be appropriate, but it wasn’t at that point.
That first nation kid may be able to walk into a mostly white church one day and be fine. He may even fast and pray on his own one day. But not today. And I won’t be the one to force him. I’ll be the one to lovingly point him to the Bridegroom, without placing unreal expectations on him. At least I’ll try.