Matthew 9: 14-15
Isa 58:1-9a / Psa 51
For You do not desire sacrifice, a burnt offering You would not accept. My sacrifice is a broken spirit; Lord, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.
If we wish to be a devout
Follower of our Lord Jesus Christ,
We must abstain and do without
The lures of this world for sacrifice.
Then John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, 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)
It appears in today’s Gospel passage that our Lord Jesus did not encourage His disciples to fast as John the Baptist and the Pharisees did with their followers. Perhaps one reason for this was because while He was with them, teaching them so many lessons, He did not want them to be distracted by hunger, or the ceremonial aspect of fasting, which the Pharisees loved to practice. In fact, in their travels from village to village, taking regular meals was oftentimes neglected, as we read in Matt. 12 when the disciples picked grain on a Sabbath because they were going hungry, or when He fed thousands in a deserted place (Mt.14:21). In short, there were more important activities that had to be attended to than just fasting. But our Lord fasted more intensely than any of the Pharisees when He prepared Himself for His ministry. He went to the desert and fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4:2).
Fasting during the season of Lent is commonly practiced as a form of self-denial. Together with abstinence, this form of discipline that conquers 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 purposes; He 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 the pangs of hunger upon oneself, but conditioning our 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 not only from food but other things or activities that delight our physical senses inspires us 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. 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)
During this season of Lent, let us go back to this old Biblical practice, if only to be one with Jesus Christ Who humbled Himself in His passion and death for our salvation. Especially for those of us who are overweight, perhaps this is the best time to ask our Lord to give us the willpower to restrain our appetites — not only for the benefit of our body, but for gaining a deeper understanding of His cross for the wellness of our soul.
Help me, O Lord, to be able to sacrifice a little, by fasting and abstinence, as my offering to You during this Lenten season; not because You need it, but because it is for the benefit of this broken spirit. Grant that this will strengthen my will, I humbly pray. Amen.