This pericope, occurring within the middle of a pattern of five conflict stories, summaries the main idea at the heart of the emerging conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities – Jesus’ ministry is not another alternative solution for realising the hopes of the Jewish faith. Jesus’ ministry marks the beginning of a new means of relating to God that replaces and fulfills all that has gone before. Whilst the major strands of the Jewish faith (from the hyper-religiousness of the Pharisees to the guerilla warfare of the Zealots) focused on the external realities of the people of God relating to politics, geography, national identity and so forth, Jesus’ ministry focuses on the internal problem of sin; the problem is within rather than without.
Fasting, a typical sign of external religion, was a common practice within Judaism. Fasting can generally be understood as a means of seeking to attain grace under the Old Covenant. However under the ministry of Jesus we attain grace by receiving and believing in Him (John 1:12, 16-18). Jesus uses the picture of a wedding feast with himself as the bridegroom to capture the contrast between the administration under the old and new covenants.
(Verse 20 appears to be a separate idea, perhaps a later addition to the narrative, and an early allusion in Mark’s gospel to the passion of Jesus with fasting used as a literal expression of mourning).
The twin illustrations in vv21-22 express the idea that although the ministry of Jesus may appear similar (new cloth on old cloth, new wine in old wine skins), it is in fact compatible within the paradigm of the Old Covenant.
The original audience for this Gospel were Christians undergoing persecution by the Roman authorities for their faith. The story of Jesus’ conflict with the authorities along with the imagery of the abundant wedding feast with Jesus would have served as a message of great comfort to them in their time of need (1 Peter 4:13).
- Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009)
- James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary:The Gospel According to Mark (Eerdmans, 2002), 87–93.
- David Garland, Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 102–106.
- William Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 107–113.
- Robert Guelich, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Dallas: Word, 1989), 106–117.