33 Then [the Pharisees and their scribes] said to Jesus, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’
34Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’
Religious gatekeepers tend to view the world through a bifurcated lens. Everything is either right or wrong. Everyone is in or out. Life is good or bad. There is not a lot of room for grey. You are either with “John’s disciples” who are “like the disciples of the Pharisees” and therefore on the right side of the debate, or you are with Jesus’ disciples on the wrong side.
The “Pharisees and their scribes” are not asking their question out of a genuine desire to see more deeply. They are seeking to prove Jesus wrong. For them, to line up against “the disciples of the Pharisees” is to be on the wrong side of any debate.
But, Jesus points out the Pharisees’ flaw when he states, “You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them.” The problem in the religious hierarchy’s vision of spirituality is that they view spiritual life as subject to demand. Their lives are driven by discipline and self-will. But, when “the bridegroom is with”, life is not governed by a rigid dogmatic external code of conduct. You may fast if it helps you discern the presence of the bridegroom, or you may refrain from fasting.
The punch line to Jesus’ statement is
The day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days,
Jesus’ disciples will come to realize that the bridegroom is never “taken away from them.” Jesus promised, before his ascension,
remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
The goal of spiritual practice is to open my eyes to the reality that the bridegroom is always present. I fast, not to become a better person, to be more righteous, or to identify with the right religious group. I fast in order to remove from my life those distractions or attachments that may hinder my consciousness of the divine presence that resides at the heart of all being.