Lenten Gospel Reflection for Friday, February 19th, 2021
Love should always be the primary motivator in our spiritual lives. In everything we do, we must always be motivated by the Love of God, and be called according to His divine purposes.
In that vein of thought, do you understand the modern spiritual significance of “FASTING”? What was the significance of fasting in ancient Judaism, and during the time of Christ? Can we draw and parallel conclusions?
In Old Testament sorrow was often the basic motivation of a fast (Zechariah 7:1-3; 8:18-19). At its most basic, the Jewish people fasted as an expression of mourning, such as at the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:13) or a spouse (Judith 8:4-6). Sorrow often drains us of the normal desire for sustenance. Fasting could also be utilized as an attempt to enlist God’s help, for example, when someone close is sick (a friend: Psalms 35:13). Sometimes fasting was linked to penance, as with David’s fast for his sick child (2 Samuel 12) or the Ninevites in response to Jonah’s message (Jonah 3). In this satirical exposition, even the animals fast and cry out to God in order to avoid punishment. Moses’s supernatural fasting on Mount Sinai (Exodous 34:28; Deuteronomy 9) is given several meanings. In Deuteronomy 9:18-19 Moses reminds the Israelites that he went without food and drink for forty days, which led to God listening to Moses. In other texts as well, people fast as an act of purification or preparation before seeking divine guidance (Judges 20:26) or as a part of a ritual seeking divine favor. In Esther 4, Mordecai first, then the Jewish community, and finally Queen Esther fast in reaction to the decree for their destruction. The examples continue. However except for one, possibly two special occasions, fasting was not a formally required part of Jewish life handed down in the Jewish law.
During the the time of Christ, the daily or biweekly fastings referred to by the disciples of John the Baptist were practiced for reasons of asceticism and were enforced with a high sense of legalism, or obligation by the Pharisees.
In the lives of most modern Christians, fasting is simply out of style. It’s just not emphasized very often. Though I’ve heard references to fasting in my youth, while attending Protestant, Evangelical Churches, fasting was more often than not mentioned as merely a footnote to a particular subject. In Catholic Christianity, we recognize fasting as both a form of penance, and as a spiritual aid to focus our prayerful intent on God. Though we can see admonition for the faithful to engage in pious fasting through out church history, In the early days of the Church, fasting was never a legalistic requirement. As we saw in the gospel reflection regarding Ash Wednesday, many of the Catholic traditions that we hold dear, have evolved over the years. Some of them, like fasting and abstinence from meat on Friday’s, have become so engrained that they are being viewed in some churches as spiritual requirements.
When the disciples of John questioned Jesus about fasting, they weren’t concerned about anything to do with the laws of Moses, but, rather, the man-made laws of the Pharisees. My sisters and brothers, Jesus often spoke out against such fabricated laws. Churches that impose such man-made regulations with the weight of spiritual law, are acting contrary to Jesus’ own warnings. Mandatory fasting and abstinence from certain foods, priestly celibacy, and church sanctioned annulments, are just a few modern examples of unbiblical and even pharisaical extremes some churches enforce.
YES, my sisters and brothers, fasting can be a good thing. Especially during Lent as an act of contrition, or as a spiritual discipline, helping you to draw closer to God. However, there is absolutely no benefit to fasting, or any other spiritual act, if you’re performing it out of externally imposed guilt or obligation. All of our spiritual deeds must be done out of love for our Lord, with an internalized tugging at our heart strings.
Just as the ancient Jewish people often fasted due to being sorrowful for their sins, we also fast out of contrition for the times we have failed to live righteous and holy lives.
Lord God, Heavenly King, your WORD challenges us to live our lives pleasing to you. Help us in our times of failure to turn from our wicked ways and seek you in prayer and fasting. Guide our hearts O Lord to submit to your moral imperatives, putting aside our both our pride and our desires for the unholy. For you alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Most High. Help us all mighty God, to strive to be Holy as you are Holy. AMEN
GOSPEL Matthew 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, 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.”