FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."
Psalm 51: 1-4a, 16-17
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
In today's Gospel Jesus compares fasting to mourning. We mourn a loss, as when we are separated from a loved one. We mourn a loss of grace and express a longing to be reunited. Fasting is only for a season. It is an expression of hope that the season of mourning will pass. Christ with us is a cause of rejoicing. When we are in darkness or fear, or discouragement or doubt, we mourn as we also look forward to the fullness of joy.
Too often in Christian culture we consider Lent to be a designated time for achieving personal goals. Almost like when we set our New Year’s resolution, our fasting from indulgences can easily become confused with diet or health goals rather than having a heavenly bent. While God leads us into health and away from gluttony, fasting is not for the purpose of shrinking our waistlines. The goal of fasting is to remove the carnal barriers we have to being in a deeper spiritual union with God.
When we fast, we are acknowledging that something besides the Lord has become a source of comfort or dependency for us. Perhaps we find solace in eating or drinking, or disengage too much from the world around us through various forms of media. While these can be some of our more common comforts or escapes, they can become idols. There is no limit to actions or behaviors that can turn into vices if used in place of God. God allows us mental breaks through media and blesses us with earthly pleasures, but we can only truly enjoy the fullness of these gifts when they are treated as bonuses instead of being our source of fulfillment.
Fasting is an offering that in no way is meant as a means to manipulate God no matter how good the intention.
The reading from Isaiah chastises the people who saw fasting as a transaction; they fast or bring an offering to God, and then God is supposed to do what they wanted Him to do. Contrast this to Jesus’ disciples who spent all their days with Him learning how He desired them to live.
Isaiah tells them that the Lord will answer them when they loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free. When they share their food with the hungry and provide the poor with shelter, clothe the naked and respond to their own kin. Then are they able to pray in a way that falls in accord with God’s will. Then and only then will they achieve the desires of their hearts because the deepest desire for all human kind, is to be in right relationship with God.
When we are in right relationship with Him, we come closer to the mind to Christ, knowing how to pray and discern the will of God.
When discerning an acceptable fast, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to identify what actions have become your go-to’s instead of prayer. Ask God what barriers to that relationship exist in your life, and be willing to turn them into sacrifices.