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On your Mark

Unhappy people

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” (Mark 2:18-20, NIV)

When I was a young pastor, an older minister gave me this piece of advice: “George, you can spend a lot of time trying to make unhappy people happy. You may make them less unhappy for a while, but sooner or later they will go back to their original state.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “you may make happy people less happy for a while, but sooner or later they also will return to their original state.”

I thought that was good advice and took it to heart. There are some people whom you just cannot make happy — no matter how hard you try.

That was the case with the Pharisees. They were unhappy that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors (2:15-17). Next, they complained that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting either. It’s obvious they wanted Jesus to do something about the behavior of His followers.

The disciples were only following the example of their Leader. If Jesus was feasting, then they would too!

Jesus responds to the criticism by giving the first veiled reference to His mission — that “the bridegroom will be taken from them.” Of course, the disciples and the critics have no idea at the time what this means. Much later they will understand.

Jesus does not give in to the criticism. He comes to the defense of His disciples and in so doing gives us an important lesson.

From the beginning, Jesus knew why He had come. The cross was ever before Him. But He did not let that impending event cast a shadow of sadness over himself or those who were with Him. He did not prematurely disclose to His disciples what was going to happen.

If I knew years in advance that I was headed for crucifixion, it would be very difficult for me to enjoy the present moment. But Jesus lived what He taught. He did not show anxiety about tomorrow. He did not throw a blanket of sorrow over His disciples that would have prevented them from experiencing the great joys of being with Him.

He feasted, and so did they. In the very face of impending suffering, He taught His friends to enjoy the moment.

The Pharisees didn’t like that. Everything had to be done by their rules. They were not happy on the inside — and unhappy people don’t enjoy seeing or being around people who are happy.

I’ve heard it said that every baseball team could use a player who always gets a hit, always makes a key fielding play, and never strikes out or makes an error — but there’s no way to make him lay down his hot dog and come out of the grandstand.

Let’s avoid a Pharisee spirit that’s always looking for what’s wrong rather than what’s right; that’s predominantly looking to nitpick and find something to condemn rather than keeping an eye out for whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

A prayer of response: Deliver me, Lord, from a critical spirit. Help me not to be a wet blanket to another's joy. Let me not be a fault-finder. Grant me a glad heart that I may encourage rather than discourage.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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