While sharing the evening meal, Mark found himself reclining at table across from the young girl who often asked questions. He noticed she was picking at her food. She looked up to meet Mark’s concerned gaze and color rose to her cheeks. “What’s your name, my young sister?” asked Mark. “Rachel,” she answered. “And where do your thoughts take you this evening, Rachel?” he asked. Her eyes fell back to her plate for a while, before she looked up again. “Your mother hosts us here almost every evening.” She paused. “And we enjoy the table fellowship together. People bring food to share, but I…” Her voice trailed off. “I can rarely contribute to the meal. It is all I can do to feed my sisters and myself.” Mark regarded her with sympathy for a moment before responding. “That is nothing to be ashamed of. In the Kingdom of G_d, there is enough for all, regardless of each person’s ability to contribute. That is what we learned from G_d’s gift of manna to our ancestors in the wilderness.”
“It is not that.” Her face flushed a deeper red. “Then what troubles you?” Mark asked gently. “I…I have not adjusted to our circumstances. It was not always this way. I am more used to hosting such a gathering, than being a guest at one. Our family’s table was always laden with the finest foods Jerusalem had to offer.” Her voice took on a faraway timbre, and her eyes misted over briefly. “Well, except on the fast days that we began to practice once our father aligned our family with the Pharisees.” She chuckled briefly at some memory. “My sisters and I soon learned not to complain on the two days a week we fasted. Our father said it pleased G_d for us to go without. And he certainly wanted other people to notice how pleased G_d was with us. Anyone would think he hadn’t eaten for a month when he walked – slowly – through the marketplace on fast days.” She paused. “Sometimes he spoke unkindly about your mother for not observing fast days as we did.”
“What happened to him?” Mark asked, tentatively. “The zealots,” she responded bitterly. “Ah,” said Mark. “I am truly sorry.” Rachel flicked her hand as if to say it was a small matter. “My family is hardly the only family to suffer in this war.” “That is true,” said Mark, “but your pain is your pain.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Your mother has been so kind to us, as have others here. I do not know what we would do without their hospitality.” She laughed, self-deprecatingly. “I used to think I knew what it meant to be hungry on fast days.” Mark’s eyes drifted in the direction of Lower Jerusalem, and the Roman army camped beyond the walls. “I fear Jerusalem will know what it means to be hungry in the days to come.” Rachel followed his gaze. “I fear you speak truly.” Mark passed her a plate of flatbread. “But not tonight, Rachel.” She smiled as she took a piece of bread. “No, not tonight.” Mark got to his feet to address the gathering.
“It was not only who Jesus ate with that caused trouble: sometimes it was simply just the act of eating itself. For John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting;” – he caught Rachel’s eye for a moment – “and they came and said to Jesus, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’”
“As you know, the Law only requires one fast day, on the most holy of days, the Day of Atonement, which our people observe even if it falls on the Sabbath. The Pharisees also fast on the days when we remember the darkest of days of our history: the destruction of Jerusalem and of Solomon’s temple. But Jesus and his disciples did not fast on those days. For Jesus ushered in the time of restoration, of new life and the new start for which our people Israel still long. Jesus was G_d’s sovereign and saving presence in the midst of G_d’s people, and he and his disciples were looking forward to the great things G_d was beginning to do through him, not backward to the time when Israel had been punished for her failures and infidelities. Jesus understood what Zechariah meant when he said, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the ten months will become joy, gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.’”
Rachel spoke up. “But Jesus said his disciples would fast. They would fast on the day when he was taken from them. What does that mean?” Mark’s voice lowered, as he replied. “Just as the Pharisees fast on the day when the temple, the place of G_d’s sovereign presence among G_d’s people was destroyed, Jesus’ disciples would fast – and weep, and grieve – when Jesus was destroyed: nailed to a Roman cross. But for the time until that darkest of days, they – we – ate and laughed and celebrated this new life…”