The Lord espouses the people of Israel.
A prayer of praise for the Lord's mercy.
2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
Paul defends his ministry, saying that the Corinthians are living examples of the work of Christ being accomplished through Paul's ministry.
Jesus responds to the question about why his disciples do not fast.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today we skip ahead a few verses in our reading of Mark's Gospel. In the intervening verses, Mark describes Jesus' call of Levi, a tax collector, and how the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus' actions, asking why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Remember that in the Jewish Pharisaic interpretation of the Law of Moses, tax collectors and sinners were thought to be ritually unclean; observant Jews were not permitted to eat with them. Jesus replied that his mission was to help sinners, who are in need of healing.
In today's Gospel, people question Jesus, asking why his disciples did not fast like the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees. While the purpose behind previous questions was to challenge and accuse Jesus, this particular question may simply represent curiosity. A difference in practice has been observed, and some inquired into the reasons for this difference. In the passage that follows this in Mark's Gospel, however, the question posed by the Pharisees sounds more like a challenge, questioning the Sabbath observance of Jesus and his disciples.
Fasting is a religious practice in which a person abstains from food for a specified period of time. In the Hebrew Scriptures, individuals and communities fasted as a penitential practice, a sign of sorrow for sinfulness and as a sign of grief and mourning. It appears that this is also Jesus' understanding of the purpose of the fasting.
In his response to the question about fasting, Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding feast to describe the community of disciples that he has gathered. He compares himself to the bridegroom and observes that it is inappropriate to fast during a wedding feast and then predicts the changes that will happen to this community after his departure.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus' presence is equated with the Kingdom of God, which is an occasion for rejoicing. Jesus also predicts a time when his followers will fast, however, out of sorrow at his death. Jesus then describes the newness of his teachings and actions, using the metaphor about old and new wineskins.
In this passage, Mark contrasts the way of Jesus with two other first-century communities of faith—the way of John the Baptist and the way of Pharisaic Judaism. These communities may have coexisted with the early Christian community for whom Mark was writing, and they may have competed for followers. Mark is attempting to show the distinctiveness of the teachings of Jesus and the practices of his disciples. In some ways, then, this passage shows us the working out of the early Christian community's self-definition.
Today is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time; Ordinary Time will resume after the Easter season. Next week we begin the season of Lent when we will fast as a sign of repentance for our sins and of our need for God's forgiveness.