“Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?’” (Matthew 9:14–15).
Religious ritual and routine, if not handled appropriately, will always threaten true godliness. Some practices, such as praying to saints or lighting candles for the dead, are heretical. But even biblical practices, when their forms become the center of attention, can become barriers to true righteousness. Church attendance, Bible reading, saying grace before meals, and singing hymns can become lifeless habits that exclude true worship and praise. When we apply good things such as these the wrong way, they can keep us from faithful obedience . . . and keep unbelievers from trusting in God.
Alms, prescribed prayer, and fasting were the three major expressions of piety the Jews performed in Jesus’ time. The leaders took these matters quite seriously and were meticulous to practice them publicly so as to impress others with their piety (cf. Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). Thus these practices became badges of pride and hypocrisy rather than marks of humble and genuine religion before God.
Jesus’ point in mentioning the bridegroom and his attendants is to show how out of place it is for His followers (attendants) to mourn and fast while He (the Bridegroom) is with them in person. Pharisaical manners and rituals are always wrong for Christians, but even good practices (such as sincere fasting), if not done properly, can hinder what the Lord wants to accomplish in our midst.
Should our answer to this kind of hypocrisy be the removal of all forms, disciplines, and ritual practices from our worship? Or is there value in these kinds of expressions? What would go missing from our worship if it was all spur-of-the-moment, with no cherished repetitions?