Matthew 9: 14-15
Is 58: 1-9a/ Ps 51: 3-4. 5-6ab. 18-19
Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them?
No one fasts on a wedding feast,
Or abstain in a celebration;
But during Lent the parties cease,
For fasting and mortification.
The disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they will fast” (Mt.9:14-15).
The answer of Jesus in this Gospel passage of Matthew has often been cited by some as a convenient excuse to ignore fasting, which is integral to our Christian Lenten tradition. In fact, our Lord was not disparaging a Jewish custom of that time, when fasting was associated with mourning, or praying to God for a need. There was no need for it at that time, because the Messiah was in their midst. It was like the coming of a bridegroom to a wedding feast. It simply was not the proper occasion to fast. The absence of fasting was due to the presence of the Redeemer, and the celebration of the recent deliverance of a new apostle, Matthew.
During this Lenten season, fasting is practiced as a form of self-denial. Together with abstinence, this discipline of conquering the desire to eat develops our will power to resist the lures that the devil employs to entrap us. But fasting should not be an end in itself. God does not encourage fasting solely for discipline or self-denial reasons. It is not a Biblical reason for fasting. God has a higher purpose in mind. The sacrifice involved in fasting is for the purpose of “afflicting one’s soul.” It is not merely inflicting one’s body with hunger, but conditioning one’s spirit to turn in prayer more intimately to the Provider of all things. Fasting must always occur with prayer. “You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast without praying.” The deliberate abstention from food happens for a spiritual reason: to communicate with the Father on a higher plane. God said, “When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me” (Jer. 29:13,14). When we set aside the cravings of the body to concentrate on praying, we are seeking God with all our heart. Without sustenance, we weaken ourselves before the Lord in order to depend on His strength. To fast therefore is “to humble oneself before the Lord” (Ps.35:13)
In this fundamental Biblical practice, let us be one with Christ Who humbled Himself for our salvation. Especially for those of us who are overweight, this is the best time to ask our Lord to give us the willpower to restrain our appetites – not only to lose weight, but to gain a deeper understanding of His cross.
The season of Lent is the right time to fast. It is the time of year when we feel an emptiness, a longing for God’s presence, perhaps due to the painful realization of our sinful nature. We fast because we grieve for our sins. It is a form of “taking up the cross” to follow Jesus. It is not merely “doing without”, but “doing something about” – the purpose of which is to prepare for an important event. That event is Easter, the return of Jesus our Lord, and His victory over death and sin. Fasting then is preparing for a coming feast! It is the same way that our Church urges us to refrain from eating food at least one hour before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. Jesus fasted for forty days to prepare Himself for His ministry. The season of Lent is forty days, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Our Lord requests us to “keep Him company” during this short period of time, to focus on His love and purpose in our life, and not be distracted by things of this world. It’s a small request. Let’s give our share to show our gratitude and appreciation.
Help us, Lord God, to prepare our souls for the passion and death of our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may be worthy to celebrate with Him in His glorious return. Amen.