To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Sam 15:16-23; Mk 2:18-22
The text of today is a controversy story, and concerns one of the three important traditions of the Jews: fasting. The other two were alms giving and prayer.
The question of the people compares the behaviour of Jesus’ disciples with that of John’s disciples and the Pharisees. The latter fast whereas the disciples of Jesus do not. The law required that people fast only on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1-34; 23:26-32; Num 29:7-11), though there were other reasons why a person might fast including as a personal expression of sorrow or repentance (1 Kgs 21:27; 2 Sam 3:35). The Pharisees were said to fast twice a week (Lk 18:12). Since the people considered Jesus as a prophet or religious teacher, they would have expected his disciples to fast as other sects did.
In his response to the people, Jesus clarifies that with his coming the new age has dawned, which is an age of freedom. He does this first by using the analogy of the bridegroom, and states that those who fast at the wedding are seriously insulting the host or bridegroom. However, even though there is the element of celebration in the analogy of the bridegroom, there is also a sombre note, which speaks of the bridegroom being taken away, and seems to refer to the death of Jesus, which will be an appropriate time to fast.
The unshrunk cloth and the new wine refer to this new age, whereas the old cloak and the old wine skins refer to the old age. The two are incompatible. An attempt to patch an old garment using a new or unshrunk cloth will result in a worse tear; just as to put new wine into old skins will result in a great loss. The conclusion of the saying of Jesus emphasises that the presence of Jesus brings newness and to understand him one will need to give up the old categories that one has.
If we can talk of a rule or regulation that Jesus gave his disciples, it would only be the rule of love. All the actions of Jesus’ disciples must be motivated by love. This means that one may or may not fast, but that one will always and every time only love.