14 “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14–15 (ESV)
It is wise for us to compare Mark and Luke’s account of this incident with Matthew’s. While there are similarities, there are also distinctive differences.
18 “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?” 19 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. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (Mark 2:18–20 (ESV)
33 “And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5:33–35 (ESV)
In Matthew’s text, the people who asked Jesus a question about fasting were the disciples of John. Mark indicates it was only people who posed the question, without any indication they were John’s disciples of the disciples of the Pharisees. Luke implicitly refers to the Pharisees and their scribes as the questionaries (Luke 5:30-32).
There is no contradiction in these three narratives. Evidently, there were Pharisees present when John’s disciples came and these two groups comprised the people who asked Jesus about fasting. Mark’s Gospel indicates that the people in question were fasting when they asked the question.
What is consistent in all three Synoptic Gospels is the question about fasting and prayer. The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees often fasted and prayed. They wondered why Jesus’ disciples did not. This inquiry is significant occurred just after Jesus and His disciples attended a feast hosted by Matthew (Matt. 9:10-13). This could either be a question of condemnation or accusation regarding the holiness, or lack thereof, of both Jesus and His disciples. Jesus spoke about the importance of, and qualifications for fasting (Matt. 6:16-18). Fasting was to be done secretly and not with a gloomy facial expression. How would either of these two people groups know if Jesus and His disciples fasted, or did not fast, according to Jesus’ instructions?
The implication in the texts is that a hypocritical standard for the discipline of fasting, and perhaps prayer (Luke 18:9-14) had become normal. The issue may have been about self-righteousness posturing and not about repentance and communion with God; which are the respective goals for prayer and fasting.
What was Jesus’ response? This will be studied tomorrow. Until then, take time to evaluate your own fasting and prayer disciplines. Are these practices done for personal and private worship and edification? Or, are they done for public display and self-exaltation, violating Jesus’ instructions?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!