”They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” 34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” Luke 5.33-35
Here’s something I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s not about fasting — how many disciples were there of the rabbis, religious leaders and prophets walking around Judaea during the time of Jesus? Did this look like when the President shows up with his cabinet and staff? Or when high powered lawyers come into court with an large escort of mini-me’s?
Where did being a disciple in first century Judaism rank among professions? What happened if once a disciple had completed his training there were no jobs in the synagogue or the court of the Pharisees or in the local schools? Would they be like the many Ph.D.’s who have no teaching post? Like preachers without a church?
In these verses, three sets of disciples are mentioned — Jesus’, John’s and the Pharisees. We known Jesus had twelve, we know John had at least two or three because in John 1.35-37 two of his disciples turned to follow Jesus and one of these was Andrew, brother of Peter. Lord knows how many disciples the Pharisees had! So just for kicks, let’s say there are 30 disciples wondering around this event of Jesus’ teaching. Thirty guys (sorry no girls were allowed) vying for significance, importance, to be known.
And they begin to compare teachings and ask Jesus about his disciples: “Hey Jesus, John’s and the Pharisees’ disciples fast and pray (very holy indeed) but yours go on eating, drinking and having a good time.” In other words, Jesus, your disciples don’t act very holy! But Jesus gives them this inside information, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” They will fast, Jesus says, but once he has left them.
Jesus knew what he was doing and his disciples looked a lot different than the other disciples who acted as if they were betting on a horse — “Who is going to win?” “Who will be the best?” “Which leader will boost my career in this life of Judaism and make me important in the eyes of my countrymen?”
Today we can’t find disciples of John the Baptist (although intention was to prepare the way for the Messiah) or even the brand of Phariseeism present during the days of Jesus. But we can find Jesus’ disciples in every corner of the world and on every street corner of our cities. Jesus’ disciples can be counted in the billions. And like their master, their impact upon humanity has been great.
Whose disciple are you? Whom does your life reflect? Why not turn to the only Rabi who is still living today in the hearts of his followers and through the presence of the Holy Spirit?
“O Lord God, it is a joy to follow you. A joy to be counted among your followers. I enjoy your presence here and now but one day, when I see you face to face, I pray that I might hear the words — “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Come now, Holy Spirit, fill me with your power and love. Help me be the person you have called me to be by your grace and for your glory. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen