Followers, Pharisees, Fellowship and Fasting

“You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God

Out with the Old and in With the New

Matthew 9:9-17

“And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!, And he rose, and followed Him. And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?’ But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. But no one puts a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.’”

We are looking at Jesus as the true Israel. That is, all that Israel was intended to do through their walk, the Law of Moses and the prophets, Jesus is doing, as told by Matthew. Using the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics where, Context is king, author’s Aspirations to his audience is apex, Genre is the general, Expository Exegesis of examples enlightens and Dividing rightly the word of truth confirms by using discernment and seeking the Spirit for clarification. Focusing on Matthew’s aspiration to his first century audience of Jewish readers, the context and exegesis clearly portray Jesus walking the walk of Israel and living a perfect life, fulfilling the Law and the prophets. Today’s text is another example.

“And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!, And he rose, and followed Him.” Yes, most likely the Matthew that wrote this gospel, referred to as Levi by Mark and Luke. It’s not uncommon for people to have numerous names in a cross cultural epoch such as the one in which the disciples lived. Saul was Paul, Mark was John Mark, Simon was Cephas and Peter, and the twelve disciples are often described with different names. Most have Hebrew and Greek translations of their names. Based on the contexts, we can be certain that Levi is Matthew. Naming him as the author of this gospel is a little more difficult but a tradition that has endured the test of time for two millenia, is that Matthew authored this book and nothing exists to trample on the tradition. It certainly seems to fit the scenario when taken as a whole, considering the contexts of which we will see othet examples further on in this missive and when we walk through Matthew 10, Lord willing.

Jesus found Matthew, a publican or tax collector, in his tax gathering place. Probably a hut, where he would exchange money for the purposes of tax or toll payments, making money off of the exchange. People were not fond of the tax collector. Nevertheless, Jesus called him and he followed. Then they went to grab a bite to eat. “And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?'”

Not only was one tax collector dinning with the disciples but many were, among other sinners as well; sinner, meaning a person who wasn’t really religious by following the Law. But compared to the pious Pharisees, who was? The root word in Greek for sin is used however, and it fits the context. We know that the Pharisees were the ultimate sinners because of their self-righteousness but the context clarifies who and why these sinners and tax collectors are dinning with the disciples and Jesus. Notice the question presented by the Pharisees to the disciples because they were too timid to ask Jesus himself. “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” The better question is, why weren’t they? Were they not to make converts to their laws and customs? I am getting ahead of myself and giving the Pharisees way too much credit. Notice what happens next.

“But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.'” I rather enjoy the simple metaphors used by Jesus that are timeless, for they require less expository exegesis of examples. Not that I don’t enjoy searching the Scriptures, I do. Nevertheless, when such a simple simile or metaphor is mentioned, it leaves more time for other expository exegesis of examples and Scripture searching. Notice: “But go and learn what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Yes! We get to consult our Old Testament tutor to see the true Israel telling the apostate Israel the what-for and why-is, by telling them to search Hosea 6, and we should do the same. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, And like the dew which goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.”

Context is king, the Pharisees should have used the CAGED method. Because the CAGED method unlocks the Scripture and places a mirror before the Scripture student. When I see the devotion to their culture and traditions, the Pharisees resemble me. I read that which the Pharisees were to read and I see myself. I study the scriptures but are they truly changing me? Notice the meaningful metaphor of a simple simile in Hosea 6; “your loyalty is like a morning cloud, And like the dew which goes away early.” I often get up early and sincerely search the Scripture but like the morning dew, as the heat of the day comes, my loyalty is dissipated by the world in which I am not supposed to live. As they day progresses or, regresses, my loyalty loosens.

“And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.” When considering the context of Hosea, which Jesus points out to the Pharisees, we see that all are sick and in need of the true Israel. The laws of sacrifice are not enough. Adam is clearly portrayed in this picture. As Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Jesus being the anti-type of Adam, Israel and all of us, for “all have sinned.” We need the true Israel, not the culture and traditions of the apostate Israel. We need the “faith of Abraham,” another sinner. From Pharisee to pig farmer, we are all in the same boat.

When Jesus says it is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick, he is not intimating that the Pharisees don’t require said surgeon. Reading the context and consulting our Old Testament tutor we see he is proving beyond a doubt that they do. And when Jesus says that he didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners, that doesn’t exclude the Pharisees because as Paul writes, quoting his Old Testament tutor, “there is none righteous, not even one.”

Consider the parable of the prodigal son, In the end, Jesus has kind words for the scribes and Pharisees, if they would only listen. The non-prodigal son screams, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.” And he said to him, ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.'” The faithful son who represents the religious, never even received a small sheep or goat, according to said son. But when the reckless and rowdy son succumbs to his fast living, he returns home humbly and gets that fat calf. The faithful son becomes jealous, not realizing that all that his father had, belong to him.

I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing the Pharisees again. For now, we must continue to see Jesus as Matthew intended, as true Israel. “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?'” This is a fair question, it would seem. After all, they have a point. Both groups, which are fairly dissimilar, fast. Why don’t the disciples of Jesus fast? Answer: “And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'” More metaphor–and it really doesn’t help much, honestly, does it? Maybe it does, consider more meaningful metaphors; “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Maybe it’s just that simple. The disciples won’t fast until after Christ’s death. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers believe that since we have Jesus living in our hearts, we also, don’t need to fast. While I agree fasting is certainly not a salvation requirement, it is beneficial. And I am pretty sure that is not what Jesus is implying here. Especially because we read in Acts of how the world changed due to disciples fasting. We must use the CAGED method where context is king. Jesus continues: “But no one puts a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Is it possible that I jumped to a conclusion without considering the context? Jesus is using metaphor of the old and the new. Is it possible he is fulfilling fasting? Is Jesus stating, out with the old and in with the new, fasting was for then but not now? I don’t believe that is the case. While I do believe in an overlap between the old covenant and the new, that lasted until around 70 AD when the temple was destroyed, I also believe that the new covenant was in full effect for the apostle Paul. Let’s look at the context of Acts 13, where we see him and fellow followers fasting. “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger[more men with multiple names], and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” They sent them, meaning, go and tell. Because of the follower’s fasting and prayer, the world changed. Can we change the world by fasting? I guess we won’t know until we try. Nevertheless, I don’t think that Matthew’s aspiration to his audience was whether or not to fast, but why the disciples of Jesus aren’t fasting at this time. And ultimately, the aspirations to the immediate audience of Pharisees are from Jesus.

“But no one puts a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” We see the old verses the new. New cloth sewn on to old will tear and new wine in old wineskins will burst. However, new wine in new wineskins will result in preservation. This metaphor isn’t as much about cloth and wine as it is about the old and the new. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers delve deep into the significance of wine, and cloth-mixing in the Old Testament law, which is fine, but it’s not the aspiration of the author. The aspiration of Jesus is to explain to the Pharisees why his disciples don’t fast, yet. We’ve seen the context and know the aspiration of the author, spoken in a genre that allows for much metaphor but frequently harkens back to the Old Testament. We need a bit of expository exegesis of examples by consulting our Old Testament tutor concerning fasting. If you have time, you can also search for wine and cloth.

Joel 2:12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.” Psalm 35:13+14 “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting; And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.” Joel 1:14, “Consecrate a fast, Proclaim a solemn assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the land To the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.” Fasting and bitter weeping seem to go hand in hand in the Old Testament, but consider Matthew’s most cited Old Testament tutor, Isaiah; “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed, And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” 

Perhaps the Pharisees weren’t fasting at all, but merely going hungry? The old way wasn’t working. Their traditions are being trampled. It’s out with the old and in with the new. The disciples are going to fast, but not in mourning but with joyful expectations. Jesus says that they won’t mourn while he is with them but also indicates that the purpose for fasting to which the Pharisees hold, is out dated and dying. The new and the old do not mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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