Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."
It seems there was a certain amount of rivalry between the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus. The fourth gospel plays this down by ending John’s career before Jesus’ began, and by having John say: “He [Jesus] must increase and I must decrease” (3:30). What is interesting is that the gospel writer felt the need to do that. In today’s reading we catch a glimpse of that rivalry. St John Chrysostom wrote: “It was likely that the disciples of John the Baptist were thinking highly of themselves as a result of John’s suffering.... So Jesus put down their inflated conceit through what he said.”
Rivalry is a very human thing, and many people see it even where it isn't. There are people who would lay a bet on two flies going up the wall. If Chrysostom is right, John’s followers were rather proud of the fact that their hero was a martyr. I can't imagine Jesus harbouring the rivalry, but I can well imagine his followers doing so. Instead of joining in the potlatch, Jesus spoke about joy.
He did not make a religion of hardship, yet he never avoided pain or sorrow. Joy does not come from avoiding; on the contrary it is possible only when we have gone into the heart of our pain and sorrow. If we avoid the process nothing happens; then we just continue all our lives to avoid it. That way there is no joy, only endless desperate flight.
Happiness can be manufactured to some extent, just for short periods; but joy is a stroke from beyond. Joyless religion may be the profoundest denial of God. If there is no joy in it, it is all your own work, so what need have you of God? If the Resurrection is not visible in you, you are preaching death without resurrection. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and it is mentioned next after love in St Paul’s list, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22). If you had no love in you, you could hardly claim to be a Christian; likewise joy (and all the others).
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