“How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast." (Matt. 9:15)This statement is in response to the Pharisees' questioning Jesus' teachings and the actions of Jesus' disciples:
They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking." (Luke 5:33)Jesus' response is practically identical in Matthew and Luke. However, we can get some clarity from the statement in Matthew that there is a conditional relationship between the fasting and the "bridegroom" being "taken from them." Why is this a conditional relationship and why did Jesus' disciples not fast?
Why Jesus' disciples did not fast
Periodic fasting, like prayer, is an ancient devotional practice, as indicated by the Pharisees. The devotional custom from ancient times is that students of saintly teachers will typically observe the practices of their teacher and work to serve the teacher while the teacher is still on the planet, and then when the teacher departs, they will fast in observance to their teacher. They will typically fast on the day of his appearance (the birth of his body) and the day of his departure (the death of his physical body).
Now Jesus' teacher was John the Baptist. We know this because all four scriptures detail that Jesus approached John in the desert, heard his teachings, and took baptism from him. This ceremonial rite (same as the rite of anointing as observed by the Israelites) symbolizes the student submitting themselves before the teacher and God.
The meaning of the bridegroom analogy
This also explains Jesus' use of the analogy of the "bridegroom" and the "guests of the bridegroom." Actually and ironically, "guests of the bridegroom." is being translated from the word υἱός (huios) - which is the same word that was used to describe Jesus' relationship with God - υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. So is Jesus talking about the "sons" of the bridegroom here in this analogy then?
Certainly not. The lexicon, in fact, admits that the translation of υἱός (huios) to "son" would only refer "in a restricted sense," to a physical family. According to Thayer's lexicon:
"in a restricted sense, the male offspring (one born by a father and of a mother)"
Then it also clarifies part of its broader use:
"used to describe one who depends on another or is his follower 1) a pupil"
In other words, Jesus was comparing him and his disciples to a bridegroom and the assistants of the bridegroom. These are also referred to as "groomsmen" in modern marriages.
In other words, "guests of the bridegroom" is not a correct translation. Jesus is talking about assistants to the bridegroom - they are in essence, "following" - assisting the bridegroom.
And this explains why Jesus would use this analogy, because he saw his students as his assistants. They were assisting him in his mission - preaching to others the necessity of turning to God.
In other words, Jesus' efforts were focused upon preaching, and his disciples' efforts were focused upon assisting Jesus in his preaching efforts. Jesus was executing the wishes of his own teacher, John the Baptist, by spreading those teachings throughout Judea, and Jesus' students were assisting Jesus' service.
Jesus' teachings mirrored John's
How do we know that Jesus was teaching the same thing as John the Baptist? Consider these three verses:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:2)
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 4:17)And Jesus also told his disciples to teach the same teaching to others:
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)Here is a discussion of the meaning of this teaching.
Jesus' preaching mission was an all-consuming affair, as Jesus kept traveling to different places, speaking to crowds and individuals alike. People didn't drive around in cars back then. They mostly walked or - if they could afford it - rode on a camel or donkey.
To walk miles from one town to another with no food in the largely barren and hot landscape of then-Judea should be considered an extreme hardship. It would be practically impossible to sustain walking these distances between towns and then setting up for a lecture without food and water.
Jesus' disciples were engaged
In other words, Jesus and his disciples were busy. They were actively pursuing a particular strategy to teach to as many people as possible. This strategy was pleasing to the Supreme Being because God wants us back. He wants us to come home to Him, because He knows this will make us happy. So Jesus' strategy was devotional, and there were many sacrifices that were made.
These sacrifices trump the sacrifice of fasting. Jesus' students gave up their occupations, their families and often their homes in order to assist Jesus in his mission to introduce people to the Supreme Being.
This contrasts with the monk's life. The monk usually stays put in a monastery, and focuses upon prayer, fasting and maintaining the monastery for others to come there and worship. Monks do not typically conduct a traveling outreach campaign - and if they do, they will do it periodically. Thus they have more opportunity to fast, as they can slow down their energy output as they fast.
We know that indeed Jesus did fast on occasion, as he fasted for 40 days at one point.
Now Jesus is stating that he expects his students to fast once he departs from them. Again, this is the prevailing custom among the Jewish texts, and the reason the question was asked in the first place.
Fasting replaced by materialism
Today, instead of fasting and praying on the two ceremonial days - of Jesus' birth and Jesus' departure - as Jesus suggested here, today's sectarian teachers promote mass materialism on these days - now called Christmas and Good Friday/Easter.
In fact, these two holidays ("holidays" is derived from "Holy days") were in fact commandeered by the Romans who wanted to dominate the populace and thus merged Jesus' observance with the pagan holidays of the Solstice and Eastere - the hare idol. So they incorporated Solstice into the supposed day of Jesus' appearance, and Good Friday/Easter as observances of his disappearance.
There is no evidence that Jesus was born on Christmas and left his body on Good Friday (three days before Easter).
Regardless, what we have left is two offensive celebrations of materialism on the very two days that Christians should be fasting on, as indicated here by Jesus himself. Why are we not fasting on Christmas and Good Friday/Easter? - at least half a day or until sunset?
Instead, these two holidays are being spent wining and dining. Christmas is accompanied by giving useless gifts to each other, getting drunk, eating too much and worshiping a pagan symbol - the Xmas tree. Meanwhile, Easter is spent buying and eating candies and creating easter egg hunts, and worshiping a pagan idol - the Easter bunny.
Both of these holidays practically ignore the teachings of Jesus, and many do not even remember Jesus in their celebrations, as we are fixated by what goodies we get or what goodies we need to buy others so we won't be embarrassed about buying less than what is expected of us.
For most of the sectarian world, these events are not devotional events: They are events that celebrate materialism.
This is offensive to Jesus.
Offending Jesus with salvationism
Should we consider the murder of Jesus' body on the cross without sadness and mourning as Jesus suggests, we are offending Jesus and God. Sectarian teachers actually promote using Jesus' sacrifice to try to cleanse ourselves of the consequences of our self-centered activities so we can go continue those activities without guilt.
These teachers proclaim there is some kind of automatic cleansing - a sort of inheritance. They teach say that "Jesus died for my sins" and celebrate the torture of his body. So instead of being upset and sad about Jesus' murder at the hands of the Romans and the Jewish high priests, and mourning, this act has become a cause for self-centered celebration.
This perversion is precisely why Jesus also said:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:21-23)This indicates the essence of Jesus' message and what he was teaching. He wasn't teaching that people should be focused on healings and miracles. His focus wasn't empty rituals. He was asking his disciples and those who heard his teachings to simply serve the Supreme Being and assist him in his mission to serve and please God. He was asking them to do God's will.
What does it mean to do God's will? This is the opposite of self-centeredness. Doing someone else's will means doing what pleases someone else rather than always seeking my own happiness.
This is called love. When a person does what pleases someone else out of their own volition (not being forced) that is coming from a place of love. This is who we are. Beneath these temporary physical bodies, we are lovers. We are caregivers. This is our natural identity.
This brings us to the question of prayer. Did Jesus' students not pray as the Pharisees' followers did? This is absolutely false. Jesus certainly taught his students to pray, but he stipulated a condition:
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." (Matt. 6:5)So Jesus' students certainly did pray, but they didn't pray in public as the Pharisees and their followers did. Jesus' students prayed in private, where no one but God could see them. They prayed directly to the Supreme Being.
Jesus' disciples also did observe holy days, such as Passover and others - but they didn't make a big show of it, so the Pharisees did not see it. They didn't use these holidays to announce their devotion to the public as did the Pharisees.
Jesus' teachings asked his students to focus their hearts upon the Supreme Being. He wanted his students to sincerely love the Supreme Being. He was not pleased with showmanship, and we can see this with Jesus' own manner of prayer:
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone (Matt. 14:23)Jesus practiced what he preached. He prayed to the Supreme Being in private. Prayer wasn't about showmanship to Jesus. It was about love. About devotion to the Supreme Being.
This is the core element of Jesus' teachings:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'" (Luke 10:27)