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.” (Matthew 9,14-15)
The disciples of John and the Pharisees seem to measure fasting in terms of quantity and a neat little list they consult. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Taxcollector they have it down to numbers, “I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on all my income.” (Luke 18:24) Fasting twice a week, paying tithes takes care of it. The job is done.
Lent is meant to unsettle us, not to make us smug. Our reading from Isaiah warns against that kind of rote fasting and dangerous self-satisfaction. It’s not a matter of numbers or how many times you bow your head to the ground, the prophet says. In fact, like the Pharisee in the temple we can miss what’s really important– mercy, an unsettling gift.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
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.
Fasting should come from seeing the needs of others and doing something about it– not “turning your back on your own.” Jesus Christ saw the needs of others and did something about it. He saw everyone as “his own” and turned to them.
He is the “Bridegroom” with us this holy season. May we see our world with his eyes and his heart.
Open our eyes, O God, to the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ,
The Word who made the universe,
The Savior sent to redeem us.
Give us grace to rejoice in his presence these days of Lent
and listen to him, learn from him, be with him..
He graces us these days, these holy days of lent,
Help us be friends of the Bridegroom.
Readings for this Friday of Lent.