The Time for Fasting

Matthew 9: 14-15
Is 58: 1-9a/ Ps 51:3-6ab,18-19

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

If we must go hungry for a day,
Remember Christ fasted for 40 days;
The ‘Bridegroom’ has been ‘taken away’
Now we will fast while singing His praise.

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).

Reflection

The answer of Jesus in this Gospel passage of Matthew has often been regarded by many as a good excuse for ignoring the importance of fasting as part of our spiritual growth. In fact, our Lord was merely referring to the Jewish custom of that time, when fasting was associated with mourning, or praying to God for a need (for rain, to ward off pestilence, or victory against one’s enemies). But there was no need for it at that time, because the Messiah was in their midst. It was a time of celebration, like the coming of a bridegroom to a wedding feast. It simply was not the proper occasion to fast. What Jesus was saying was that the absence of fasting was a testimony to the presence of the Redeemer in their midst.

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 season of Lent is the right occasion when Christians ought to practice fasting. 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. People fast because they grieve for their sins, and for this they purposely “afflict their souls” to lessen their feelings of guilt. It is a form of “taking up the cross” to follow Jesus. After all, Jesus did fast for forty days in the desert, but He had no feelings of guilt, nor any reason to afflict His soul. Fasting, therefore, should be more than just a way of atoning for our sins. Nor should it be practiced merely to fortify our faith or increase the chances that God will answer our prayers.

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 willful 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. 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)

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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