This past Friday was the last day of school here at Concordia. In celebration, my wife Melody sent me on a mission to pick up Taco Cabana breakfast tacos for her first grade class. I sampled a bean and cheese taco. Those kids got some good eats.
There seems to be something about celebrations that demands food. Thanksgiving demands a fat turkey. Christmas demands a luscious ham. Birthdays demand a decadent cake. And Super Bowl parties demand mounds of wings, bags of chips, and coolers full of every conceivable drink. Food and good times go together.
In our reading for today from Matthew 9, the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus with a question: "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast" (verse 14)? John the Baptist had been recently thrown in prison (cf. Mark 1:14) and his disciples were accordingly fasting and praying for his release. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were fasting out of an arrogant self-righteousness. Old Testament law commanded only that a Jew fast once a year (cf. Numbers 29:7-11), but the Pharisees would often fast twice a week (cf. Luke 18:12) as a conceited display of their rigid piety.
In this instance, John's disciples come to Jesus and, to paraphrase, say to him, "We're fasting, the Pharisees and their disciples are fasting, everyone is fasting! Why aren't you and your disciples fasting?" Jesus responds, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them" (verse 15)?
In the first century, weddings were particularly joyous occasions. Like today, weddings would often be accompanied by a reception where guests would eat, drink, and celebrate. Jesus' analogy, then, is this: Jesus is like the groom come to love his bride who is his disciples (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27). Therefore, we, as disciples of Jesus, live not in a time of fasting and somber faces, but in a time for feasting and celebration! For Christ is with us as our bridegroom! So eat up!
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah foresees a day when God will be with his people and writes thusly of God's celebration with them: "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines" (Isaiah 25:6). I think the King James Version does better when it translates, "In this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." "Fat things full of marrow." Now there's a word picture for you. In our day, we think of fatty foods as sinful, embarrassing indulgences which cause diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. But the biblical authors are writing out of a culture of scarcity. That is, famines were common and fat was good. It kept you from starving to death. And so, Isaiah says, "There will come a day when we can all celebrate and praise our God around a big plate of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Chili's Awesome Blossoms, Domino's stuffed crust pizzas, and Sonic Oreo milkshakes. We'll even throw in some Taco Cabana breakfast tacos for good measure." And then, one day Jesus comes and says to his disciples, "Now is not the time for fasting. Now's the time to pile your plate high! For I am God come to be with you. I am the fulfillment of Isaiah 25."
So today, as you eat your meals, remember to regard them as special celebrations of God's provision and God's presence in Christ. Maybe even treat yourself, being cognizant of health concerns, of course. Speaking of which, I think it's time for breakfast. Here's to a great Jesus feast!