This section of text begins with a question directed to Jesus - "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?" The wording of the question indicated that the inquirers believed the practice of fasting to be correct. They desired some justification, however, for the behavior of Jesus' followers. The feast at Matthew's house would naturally bring this question up since it was held on a day of fasting for John's disciples and the Pharisees (Mark 2:18).
There was only one day per year in which the Hebrew people were required by God to fast (i.e., the Day of Atonement; Lev. 16:29). Certainly Matthew would not have held a feast on the Day of Atonement. Thus, this day of fasting must have been either a Monday or a Thursday because these were the traditional days in which the Pharisees fasted (cf. Luke 18:12). It is likely that John's disciples followed the same schedule of fasting, especially since John himself probably fasted in the wilderness frequently. Let it be observed that many of the Pharisees were wicked men, despite the fact that they appeared very strict in the outward duties of religion.
Jesus responded to their question with a question - "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?" This is the first of three arguments Jesus offered as to why His disciples weren't currently fasting. Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom and His disciples were the friends of the bridegroom (cf. Eph. 5:22ff; Rev. 21:9). When one is at a wedding feast as a friend of the bridegroom, fasting and mourning are definitely inappropriate behaviors. In such circumstances, one should be celebrating and rejoicing with the bride and groom. Certainly Jesus' disciples had much to rejoice about. They had met the Savior and had obeyed His call to follow!
However, there would come a time when fasting and mourning would be appropriate. Jesus would not always be with them. In Luke 5:35, Jesus vaguely predicted His death and the sorrow of His followers that would accompany it. After His ascension into heaven there would be frequent occasions for mourning and fasting. Jesus spoke definitively that His disciples would fast, but He did not regulate the details of how often. Thus, fasting is an individual choice for believers today and is not something that can be dictated by a group of people. An individual who is properly fasting will not purposely inform others of his actions, either verbally or non-verbally (cf. Matt. 6:16-18 and our study from June 20, 2005).
We will conclude our consideration of this passage in our next lesson.