We return today to our sermon series on questions and answers with Jesus, and this morning we’ve heard Jesus employ two of his favorite teaching techniques: answering a question with a question, and asking a question that contains its own answer.
First, answering a question with a question. Jesus’ adversaries ask him why he seems to be forever eating and drinking, particularly with tax collectors and sinners, when other holy men – men like John the Baptist and his disciples, for instance – are more occupied with fasting and prayer. Why feast when others fast, Jesus? And Jesus answers them with this question, “You cannot make wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them, can you?”
That the question contains its own answer becomes clear if you imagine his adversaries trying to answer him. “You cannot make wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them, can you?” “Um… well… no, I guess you can’t.” Even if they don’t quite understand the point of the bridegroom and wedding metaphor, the answer to the question itself isn’t difficult.
And the way Luke tells the story, Jesus has actually given a major clue to the point of this metaphor in the preceding chapter. We heard in our first reading, from Luke 4, that Jesus entered the synagogue at Nazareth, stood up to read the Isaiah scroll, and declared that those wonderful divine promises about bringing good news to the poor and release to the captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor – all of it was fulfilled with his arrival. He was the one they’d been waiting for, the Messiah, the Lord. He was the answer to the prayers of his people. The time had come! In other words, the celebration could begin!
Admittedly, his audience didn’t understand him there either. In fact, a few verses after that first reading in chapter 4, enraged at his audacity in declaring himself the Messiah, the synagogue crowd drove him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff! But Jesus simply passed through their midst and went on his way.
And then in this Q & A session in chapter 5, we see Jesus again trying to convey both his own identity and the importance of recognizing what time it is. The long-awaited Messiah has come, which means the time has come for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. This is no time for sackcloth and ashes! It’s time to celebrate! “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” Of course not! That would be to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of times and seasons, as taught to us by the Old Testament wisdom teacher Ecclesiastes. Certainly there is a time to weep and a time to mourn, but there is also a time laugh and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) The wise know how to recognize the difference between the two.
It reminds me a little bit of the transitions between traditional seasons of the church year. For instance, in the church calendar we have the season of Advent, four weeks of preparing our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas. And we have the season of Lent, 40 days of repentance and reflection in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Each of those seasons of preparation can be important, but it would be a shame to miss the glorious celebration of Christmas itself, no matter how earnest our Advent prayers, or to miss the incredible good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter, no matter how deep our repentance during Lent. No need to keep preparing for the Advent of Christ when we should be holding a giant birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Eve. No need for fasting and sacrifice to prepare for the day of resurrection, once the day of resurrection is here. At that point, on Easter Sunday, it’s time to cue the Hallelujah chorus!
Those who recognized Jesus as the Messiah were simply celebrating that amazing good news, feasting with him while he was right there among them. To fast – at that point – would be to misunderstand what a big deal it was that Jesus had finally arrived. He was the bridegroom and the wedding feast was now underway!
Admittedly, we are living in an entirely different time now. We no longer have Jesus with us, in the flesh; the bridegroom isn’t among us in that sense. But we have something those contemporaries of Jesus didn’t have, and that’s knowledge of the rest of Jesus’ story. We know about his death, certainly, but we also know about his resurrection from the dead. And that changes everything. So that no matter what season of the church year we may find ourselves in, on any particular day, we are always living in a season of resurrection.
We know all too well that this doesn’t excuse followers of Christ from facing dark days – whether personally, as members of congregations, or even as citizens of the nation in which we live. There’s no question we have plenty to be concerned about, plenty to pray about, plenty to actively protest in 2017, and each news cycle just seems to bring more. It’s easy to feel discouraged, angry, frightened, or overwhelmed. But we should “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) For even dark days can also bring with them glimmers of light, glimpses of resurrection hope, signs of the victory of love over hate and life over death.
I’d like to make one final reflection on this imagery of the bridegroom and the wedding feast, in Luke 5, as it relates to our focus this month on this congregation’s outreach through Operation Nightwatch. For this, to me, is one of those signs of light and love and hope.
We know it’s possible to share food with the hungry in a perfunctory way, in a limited way. But as I’ve listened this month to stories of our team’s service at Operation Nightwatch, and their ministry to the homeless, I’ve heard language of feasting. Haven’t you? Loading up cars full of delicious homemade casseroles and vegetables and fried chicken and hard-boiled eggs and bottles of water and anything else they can pull together each month. Our team of volunteers from this congregation has no intention of simply filling hungry bellies with something to help folks get by. They are there to put on a feast. A feast that shows their honored guests that we live in a world of God’s abundance, a world in which there is more than enough for all. A feast the bridegroom himself would be proud of, for the table is spread with delicious food and everyone is welcome and loved, including those who may have been told by others that they’re not worthy to be guests at the table.
What time is it? It’s time to show the world that Jesus, the bridegroom, is alive and well, and the wedding banquet is on. It’s time to feel his power refreshing and renewing us, energizing us for ministry, and giving us hope, no matter what the particular challenges are that we might be facing. It’s time to show the world that people of the resurrection not only know what it means to celebrate, but we also know the importance of inviting everyone to the table.
After all, “you can’t make wedding guests fast, can you?” Not while the bridegroom is with them, you can’t. And he is with us, always. Amen.