Old traditions—New understandings
Traditions live very close to our hearts.
They anchor us and often become associated with or substituted for our identity. You understand how it goes. “The Smiths are known for their annual beach vacation.” “The Jones display an eloquent nativity scene every year.” “Christians incorporate lilies in the celebration of the Resurrection.” “The Menorah is central in celebrating Jewish Feasts.” People and people groups are known for individually or in their families for a specific tradition that you immediately identify with them.
Some Old Testament traditions were instituted as symbols became more than symbolic by almost becoming the lifeline and identification of the children of Israel. Fasting was a tradition—an important tradition—and one that the leaders of Israel wanted to make clear they were practicing.
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Their obvious question was ‘why were Jesus’ disciples not fasting?’ On the surface it is a legitimate question. It is not different in intent to asking Christians why they are not having daily time with the Lord. If you belonged to Israel, fasting was a discipline and function of religious worship—a way to honor and connect with God. If you are a Christian, you cannot sustain a vibrant relationship with the Lord without time with Him.
On the other hand, Jesus is continuing His theme of the Kingdom is now among you. If the King, the Savior, the Shepherd of Israel, the Holy One, the Lover of the souls of men was right there in their midst, then there was no need for fasting. It was time for celebration and enjoyment of relationship to Him and with Him right in the here and now. That is…..if you believe He is the Son of God sent to them and living among them.
Jesus certainly taught that His time was limited and the beginnings of the foreshadowing of His going back to the Father were already being released. “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away. On that day they will fast.”
The new was replacing the old and unnecessary practices. His Presence in their midst was what the Kingdom was all about. Don’t try to patch up the old or pour what is new into old containers. It isn’t that ‘what was’ was bad. It just wasn’t sufficient nor was it ever meant to be. The symbolic (but very real act of) fasting had its place in its day and served its purpose. But when the Presence of Jesus was manifest, fasting was no longer necessary.
The Kingdom of God is among us today. We are to live out the Lord’s Prayer; “on earth as it is in Heaven.” We have been given His life by His Spirit to walk in the newness of the Kingdom. As helpful as symbols, rituals and traditions may be, they are not a replacement for relationship with and enjoyment of our Savior. We need to evaluate our practices and traditions. What merely makes you feel good—feel religious? What actually brings you into a realization of His Presence? What spiritual discipline are you being invited to participate in as a way of celebrating His loving Presence and offering yourself to His work in your life?
I trust that our practices are not our identity but offer ways of meeting the One Who is in our Presence by His Holy Spirit.