Fasting is important, and a great way to draw close to our Lord in faith and maturity, as long as it is done with reverence and obedience, free of hidden agendas, and not used as an attention-gathering device.


Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”   And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.   “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

The Pharisees were not the only ones surprised to see Jesus among tax collectors and sinners; John the Baptist’s disciples were also dumbfounded. From their perspective, Jesus was feasting while they were fasting, quite a contrast on what is perceived to be piety. They assumed Jesus and His disciples would do as they did, and practice piety by being separated from the world. John preached passionately, with power and conviction, demanding repentance and fasting, and then withdrew. Jesus also preached with power and conviction, as well as about repentance, and came through willing to meet others where they were. Jesus did not leave the people; He went to them, continually ministering to them, giving us an example of what we are to do.  He modeled fasting, but did not demand it.  So, the question asked by  the disciples of John is in the same context as the previous question from the Pharisees.  In verse 11, the Pharisees had asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Now the disciples of John ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples eat at all?”  These two questions represent two views of holiness.  One view said that one could not eat with sinners, the other that one should not eat at all.

Fasting was considered a proper expression of humility and penitence, as well as devotion.  Most religious leaders over-did it by being showy and pretentious with their pious, fraud-like devotions. Their behavior showed their pride and contempt, the opposite of true devotion. Although Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would fast for periods up to forty days, Jesus did not attach much significance, in His teaching and ministry, to fasting. He was more concerned with attitudes and motivations than what was done on the outside. Fasting is important, and a great way to draw close to our Lord in faith and maturity, as long as it is done with reverence and obedience, free of hidden agendas, and not used as an attention-gathering device.

I t is also important to note that the fasting referred to by John’s disciples was not one which was commanded by the law.  Only one fast was commanded in the Mosaic law, that on the Day of Atonement.  Instead these fasting was a tradition practiced by the Pharisees, and apparently adopted by the disciples of John, of fasting two days a week: Monday and Thursday.  This was a source of pride among the Pharisees as is seen in Luke 18:12 where the Pharisee boasts of fasting twice a week in his prayer in the Temple.  It is interesting that when the early church fasted, church history informs us that they also fasted twice a week, but on Wednesdays and Fridays, in order that their fasting not be confused with the fasting of the Pharisees.

Today’s readings invite us to imagine a world where everyone can live life to the fullest. The gospel speaks of transformation, of moving forward and not blindly following old ways and old rules. The reading from Amos tells of ruined cities rebuilt, mountains dripping sweet wine and planted gardens yielding fruit.

Is our current standard of living sustainable for our planet? Do we need to explore new ways of living and make sacrifices for the greater good? Are we more concerned about appearances over substance? Can any of us enjoy the fruits of our land of plenty knowing that so many others are forced to scrape by in places of ruin and despair? What can we do to help transform our world into a place of peace and abundance for all?

We should note that Jesus’ teaching threatened everything.  It threatened the religious professional’s understanding of old traditions that enabled them to control the people and exert influence over their Roman captors.  It threatened their lifelong understandings of Scripture that saw them as the ushers of a new kingdom and leaders of new military superpower. Jesus’ teaching demanded humility and kindness, even before one’s enemies.  It commanded love and respect even to Gentiles.  It demands that deep seated hatreds not just set aside but removed – no matter the cost or inconvenience.

 

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