The Time for Fasting

Matthew 9: 14-15
Isa 58: 1-9a / Psa 51: 3-6, 18-19

The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast.
(Matthew 9:15)

All things have their time or season
A time to feast, a time to fast;
If we must fast, the main reason
Must be to put our cravings last.

Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9: 14-15)

Reflection

Jesus was not disparaging this sacred tradition, but it was not the appropriate time for fasting. Fasting was usually practiced in a time of mourning, for the repentance of sins, for asking divine guidance or protection, or combined with prayers, to ask for healing or casting out evil spirits. At this time, Jesus was breaking bread with sinners and celebrating the deliverance of a new apostle, Matthew.

Fasting can be another powerful practice of self-denial. Together with abstinence, this discipline of conquering the desire to eat develops our will power to resist the many 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. When we set aside the cravings of the body to concentrate on praying, we are seeking God with all our heart. And 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)

More importantly, as we read in the first reading, God said thru Isaiah, “This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the cords of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke. It is sharing your food with the hungry; sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked, and not turning your back on your own” (Isa. 58:6-7).

During this season of Lent, let us go back to this fundamental Biblical practice, and 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 share our resources with the poor and the imprisoned, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of His cross.

Help me, O Lord to be able to sacrifice a little, by fasting and abstinence, as my offering to You during this Lenten season. Strengthen my will, I humbly pray. Amen.

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