In Luke 5:33-39, the Pharisees and scribes questioned why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees. Jesus essentially responded, “Would you try to make wedding guests fast? That would be silly. Would you put a new piece of cloth on an old garment? Would you put new wine in old wineskins? Do those used to old wine want the new?”
There may be some deep meanings in these verses about old and new covenants. I’ve heard those sermons all my life, but I have trouble finding that in these responses. I think Jesus is making one point. Our religion is to be real, not ritual. The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). What was the reason for their fasting? Was it mourning their own sinfulness? Was it begging God for mercy? Apparently not. It seems they fasted because they had decided they would really be spiritual if they fasted that often. So, rain or shine, joy or sad, they would fast. It was their checklist item to make them feel righteous. It was also their checklist item to make them appear righteous to others (see Jesus’ rebuke of them in Matthew 6:16-18).
Is fasting a real part of life and submission to God? Sure it is. Jesus expected His followers to fast (again see His comments in Matthew 6:16-18). But fasting is about mourning, confession, struggle, and entreating God for some blessing. The thing with Jesus’ disciples was they were in the midst of the greatest blessing of their lives. The Messiah was with them, teaching them, helping them, blessing them. They were in the midst of joy, not mourning. They were growing with Jesus. They were being blessed. If they fasted then, it wouldn’t be out of a real response to God and His blessing in their lives. It would have been nothing more than a checklist ritual to mark off their to-do list.
How many of my spiritual activities are nothing more than checklist items. How many times do I do things because I need to mark them off my list instead of having a real response to God. James said, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). This is about real responses, not marking off the checklists of acts of worship.
Why do I pray? Do I pray because I need to connect to God? Or do I pray simply because, I’m a Christian that’s what I’m supposed to do? Why do I sing? Do I sing because I’m cheerful in Christ? Or do I sing because I’m “at church” at that’s one of those “acts of worship”? Why do I read the Bible? Do I read it because I know it has the words of life and I want to connect with the God of life? Or do I read it simply because I run a blog that says I’m supposed to read two chapters every day?
Serving God is about being real. It is not about going through motions. It is about seeing God in my life and responding based on that. Sometimes it means mourning. Sometimes it means rejoicing. Sometimes it means praying. Sometimes it means singing. If I’m only going through motions, it isn’t doing me any good.
I’m glad for today’s reminder to get real with God.
Keep the faith and keep reading,
P.S. What struck you in today’s reading?