Fasting Amidst Feasting?

Matthew 9:14-17
Gen 27: 1-5,15-29 / Psa 135

…when the bridegroom is taken away from them, 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 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

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 stiff with their old customs and traditions that they would apply them even when the occasion was not appropriate. Why should they fast at this time when they were celebrating the new life of Matthew the tax collector? Why should they mourn now when so many people had just been healed of various afflictions, and the disciples had witnessed the Messiah’s 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 Jesus. The Jewish leaders would rather condemn His ways than accept the reality of His New Testament. “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 in their legalistic observance of antiquated laws that they could never hold down the new wine being poured out for them by Jesus.

Fasting should be a private form of self-denial. It is never practiced for show, and it should never be an end in itself. God does not encourage fasting solely for discipline or for reasons of mortification. 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.” We fast because we want to communicate with the Father on a higher plane, to remove ourselves from the influence of the world and gain intimacy with our Maker. 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), and never to exalt oneself before men like the Pharisees did.

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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