Jesus answered [a question on fasting], "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20, NIV)We understand from Jesus' answer that his disciples will not fast in the way that John the Baptist's disciples fast. But why does he call himself a bridegroom? There is no record of his engagement or marriage, and for many centuries Christian monks and nuns have made vows of celibacy to be more like Jesus. If he had simply meant he was going to be married, after the wedding feast had ended the disciples could have fasted.
As we have seen before, Jesus makes use of imagery that was rich in meaning for his original listeners. Christians have many images of God, often retained from Jewish culture: the Father, the Shepherd, the Redeemer. But we have let one image of God fall into forgetfulness: the Bridegroom.
As a youth espouses a maiden,In Jewish custom there are certain days ordained for fasting, some for feasting, and some days on which people might undertake a voluntary fast. On mandatory feast days, the people were expected to rejoice and celebrate; it was forbidden to fast. In early Judaism, a list1 had been compiled of the days on which fasting and mourning were prohibited. These were "eventful days in the life of the Jewish people on which fasting is forbidden"2. It included such days as Hanukkah and Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks), because according to Jewish tradition the Torah was given on Pentecost. In the imagery of God as husband, the giving of the Torah at Sinai formed the wedding covenant between God and the people of Israel. If Jesus considered his presence to suspend the normal rules of fasting, then he was announcing his presence as one of the memorable events in the life of the Jewish people, a cause of rejoicing.
Your sons [or: He who rebuilds you] shall espouse you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
So will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5, JPS)
Jesus answered [a question on fasting], "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20, NIV)
1 - The Megillath Ta'anith.
2 - Footnote #1 to Ta'anith 10b in the Soncino Talmud.