Summary: To fast means to integrate the gospel into human life. It is the unity of the two opposites between the difficulty to overcome the human tendency to evil and the joy of embracing the Word of God.
Once there was a father with a son who was lazy. He tried to convince his son that he should join him in the work on his farm. The son was not convinced. The father was actually worried, how his son would earn his living after his death. Therefore, before his death, the father called his son and told: “My son, I have hidden for you a great treasure in the fields.” Before the son could ask him where exactly it was hidden, the father died. After the death of the father, the son began to search for the treasure. He dug from one end of the field to the other. But he could not find any treasure. He was disappointed, angry and desperate. As he sat there disappointed, he came to this idea. “I dug the field anyway. Although I have not found the treasure, why can’t I atleast cultivate the land?” He cultivated the land and got a great harvest. Then it occurred to him, that this harvest was the treasure that his father had left for him in the fields.
This story throws light upon the nature of the difference between the old fasting and the new fasting which Mark 2.18-22 is speaking about. Tilling the land was first for the son a burden. He would have been happy if he could get the treasure without having to dig up the whole land. When he found the treasure, it was not the one he had expected. But ever since his understanding of work and the treasure it would bring him changed. Now on he tilled the land with joy. He had integrated the burden of work as a joyful part of life. The joy of the treasure became present in the difficult of tilling. It is a marriage of two opposites. And that is healing.
In the same way the Jews did knot know how the Messiah would appear and how he would offer them the expected liberation. When the Messiah appeared, it was not exactly as they had expected. Now they should find Jesus as their Messiah and their fasting should mean the integration of his message into their life. The nature of the fasting changes. The fasting becomes a feasting because they have found the way to a new life. And here too we find a marriage of the opposites. Those who try to integrate the message of Jesus has a reason to feast, because it is a time of healing.
The Israelites fasted as a sign of their waiting in the hope of the expected messiah and to keep this hope alive, so that they would recognise him when he appeared. But with the appearance of Jesus, their hope is fulfilled. The salvation which they had waited for was already there in their midst. It was only a matter of accepting him and integrating his message into their lives. Those who did that would experience a new unity in their life, a unity of God and man, a new marriage, a new time of fulfillment and healing. The old fasting, which was only related to a hope, has a new face, because it is a time of its fulfillment. It required only a leap of faith this fulfillment to come into individual lives.
This new fasting expresses itself as a new joy in life. Some experience this new fasting – the union between the message of Christ and human life – as healing from sicknesses, some others as liberation from psychological hindrances, some others as self-acceptance, some others as the discovery of their neighbours as their help and power to overcome their difficulties, some others as an encouragement and reorientation to live better, some others as a call to be in the service of others. The Word of God may be challenging, but it is a call to a meaningful and fulfilled life. Even if we have been Christians for thirty years or fifty years or seventy years, still Jesus wants to enter into a marriage with us, because he wants to keep renewing our lives.