Fasting

Matthew 9: 14-17
Am 9: 11-15 / Ps 85: 9-14

The days will come when the bridegroom is 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
Is but to put our cravings last.

Then the disciples of John approached Jesus and said, `Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9: 14-17)

Reflection

In answer to the disciples of John, Jesus used the image of the bridegroom to remind them that John the Baptizer himself referred to Him as the “bridegroom who has the bride… He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). John was merely the best man.

Jesus gives a lesson on contrasts: fasting against feasting; mourning over merrymaking; old cloak, new cloth; new wine into new wineskins, and old wine into old wineskins. The Jews had become so fixated with their old customs and traditions that they would apply them even on occasions that were not appropriate. Why should they fast at this time when they were celebrating the conversion of Matthew the tax collector? Why should they mourn now when so many people had been healed of various afflictions, and the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ awesome power over the forces of nature and even against the hordes of hell?

But their old cloak of Mosaic traditions would not be patched with the new teachings of our Lord. The Jewish leaders would rather condemn His ways than accept the reality of His new teaching. “Blasphemy!” they cried when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic. “Unclean!” they gasped when Jesus touched and healed a leper. “Dining with sinners!” they complained when Jesus ate with tax collectors. “Gluttons!” they hissed, when they saw that Jesus and His disciples were feasting at a time when they were fasting. Their wineskins had become too stiff and rigid with their legalistic observance of antiquated laws that they could never hold down the new wine being poured out for them by Jesus.

Fasting can be a powerful form of self-denial. But we do not have to practice it to the extreme, and it should never be an end in itself. God does not encourage fasting solely for discipline or for reasons of self-denial. 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 more intimately in prayer to the Provider of all things. Fasting must always occur with prayer. “You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast without praying.” We fast because we want 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 allow ourselves to weaken before the Lord in order to depend on His strength. To fast therefore is “to humble oneself before the Lord” (Ps.35:13)

May I hunger more for Your Word than for food and drink; and in my physical hunger, may I experience how dependent I am on You, My God. Amen.

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