The days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt 9:15)

Forms of Fasting

Isa 58:1-9a; Matt 9:14-15

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 from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt 9:15)

Common sense tells us that on joyful occasions we celebrate; common sense tells us that in times of tragedy and loss we mourn. So when it comes to a wedding or a significant anniversary or some major achievement, we pull out all the stops and rejoice. When death comes or some form of illness or major loss crosses our path, we grieve and lament. Such is the manner in which we deal with the joys and sorrows of life.

Two days ago, on Ash Wednesday, we were given the imperative to fast. Just as there is a time for everything—a time to be born and a time to die—so too is there a time to fast and a time to refrain from fasting. It is inappropriate to fast at a wedding banquet. To do so would simply make one a killjoy. But in times of suffering and loss, or in seasons of discipline, fasting is not only appropriate but also necessary.

Isaiah the prophet shares with us the forms of fasting that God wants: “Setting free the oppressed, / breaking every yoke; / Sharing your bread with the hungry, / sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; / Clothing the naked when you see them, / and not turning your back on your own” (Isa 58:6b-7). Fasting is for the sake of life, not death; fasting is about liberation, not incarceration. While on the one hand fasting can involve mortifying ourselves by less amounts of food or keeping night vigils, a deeper form of fasting leads to a fuller life for oneself and others.

Our gospel verse reads: “Seek good and not evil so that you may live, / and the LORD will be with you.” Jesus is the bridegroom; Jesus is always with us. Our fasting in his presence is not a form of mourning. Rather, our discipline of seeking good and refraining from evil is our attempt to be disposed to recognize the Lord’s presence, a presence often manifest in the oppressed, the poor, and the hurting. The call here is to be better agents of God’s life and love.

What kind of fasting is meaningful to you? What specific form of fasting is the Lord asking of you this Lent?
Jesus, our bridegroom, you continue to invite us to your table. As we rejoice in your presence, help us to be conscious of all those who live on the margins of society. May our fasting draw them more closely into your presence and into your love.

Not by Bread Alone, from Liturgical Press, is available in print, eBook, and App format.

No comments: