Seriously, can you guys make up your mind! I can almost hear this from the pew as I prepare this reflection. Well for starters, the clarion cry of the Church on Ash Wednesday was voiced by the choice of the readings; fast through Lent, albeit privately. Two days later, the Friday after Ash Wednesday, God seems to say in the first reading that He does not want our fast; or should I say almost abhors the fast of the Israelites.
Jesus compounds the matter by answering the disciples of John the Baptist, who strangely have joined the voices of the Pharisees, in asking why Jesus’ disciples don’t fast. His reply, “Can the wedding guest’s mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” So why then are we fasting during Lent?
Put your mind to rest! ‘ BUT BE CALM and FAST ON’.
I say this because all we need is a better understanding of the first reading. Taken from the final section of Isaiah, known as “Third Isaiah” (Isaiah 56-66), the first reading was written to the residents of Jerusalem during and after Israel’s return in 539 BCE. The Babylonian exile had lasted 50 years, and under prophets like Haggai and Zechariah the people had returned to rebuild their homeland. In the midst of this joyful return they were expecting a reward especially for their fasts. What they got was instead God’s judgment. The Israelites were genuinely confused. They thought that by fasting they will please God and bring favour. Indeed, how could God not be pleased? And yet He was not!
It is imperative to understand therefore that for God, the spiritual disciplines are beneficial to us and pleasing to Him; but not when it becomes an end in itself. Even worse, if the exercise of a spiritual discipline is at the cost of the well being of humankind! In the first reading, God makes his mind clear. The fasts of the Israelites are meaningful only when they, and by extension, us, “loosen the bonds of injustice, to share what we have with those who have not, to bring the homeless into one’s house, to give clothing and shelter to the naked, to reconcile with one’s family, to help the afflicted. .These are behaviours which please God. If Lent is springtime then our fast must lead us to bring life to others.
Jesus too is not opposed to fasting; he fasted himself. But he teaches us that there is a time and place for it. The Church recognizes the season of Lent as ‘this time’; but a time that should be accompanied with acts of charity, love and goodness. Fasting from food is acceptable to God only when accompanied by a daily fast from domination, blaming others, evil speech, self-satisfaction, entitlement and blindness to one’s privilege. One’s piety is not disconnected from the rest of everyday life.
Fr Warner D’Souza
With help from the ‘working preacher’ and the ‘little black book”