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Friday – after Ash Wednesday – Lent
Readings: Isa 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-16.
Reading 1 (Isa 58:1-9a):
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
Gospel (Mt 9:14-16):
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.”
Written by Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: The reasons of fasting
Human act is for a purpose. Many times when people do the same act, but for different purposes. For example, fasting; why are people fasting? Some do to have a thinner body. Others do to attract attention, to be praised as a pious faithful. Still others do to fulfill the law, to avoid sin. Still more, some do to please God, to ask Him for what they are desiring. Lastly, some do to temperate their passion and to share what they have for the less fortunate.
Today readings show us people’s different intentions when they fasted. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah listed out the intentions of fasting which God couldn’t accept and those which God pleased. In the Gospel, John Baptist’s disciples considered that fasting is to fulfill the law. Therefore, they voiced their question to Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
1/ Reading I: The fastings which God pleases.
The most important factor when people do anything is to have good intentions. If people don’t have them, a religious act doesn’t benefit them, but also causes damages. Therefore, the duties of spiritual leaders are to teach their faithful the good purpose of religious acts and to encourage them to act with good intentions.
1.1/ Improper ways of fasting: The purpose of fasting isn’t about to bribe God so that He must grant them what they ask for. In Isaiah’s passage, people complained to God when He didn’t return His favor: “Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?”
People need to recognize that the purpose of fasting isn’t about to control God. People fast or not, they add nothing to God; but fasting is completely for their benefits. People can’t use fasting to ask for what they desire. An example will help to clarify this point. We have mercy on beggars because we concern about their difficult situation. They can’t work because they lacked of hand or foot or other organs. What shall we react when we discover that they faked their injuries by binding their organs together and making them to look real and terrible. Moreover, they also used our donated money to eat good food and to be drunken!
God doesn’t accept people’s prayer because they didn’t have good intentions when they fasted, as Isaiah pointed out: “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” He gave us two concrete examples:
(1) They didn’t control their wicked desires: “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.” Fasting is to share food with the unfortunate; what is good about fasting if one didn’t share food, but also collected his benefit by maltreat others.
(2) They didn’t control their tongue and hands: “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist.” Fasting isn’t only about food, but also to control our tongue and hands so that we shall not hurt them spiritually and bodily. We laugh when we hear the story about the one who fasted but brought his gun to rob people!
God questioned those who paid attention only to outside acts: “Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord?”
1.2/ Proper ways of fasting: The prophet Isaiah also listed out the ways of fasting which God pleases:
(1) Set people free and treat them correctly: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
(2) Share one’s wealth with the poor: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
In a word, the proper way of fasting is to correctly live one’s relationship with God and others, by practicing what the Church teaches in Seven Spiritual and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. When a person correctly lives these relationships, he shall be loved by God and receive plenty of God’s blessings. Isaiah promised these in this passage: “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, here I am.”
2/ Gospel: Fasting on time
2.1/ Not fasting all the time: Fasting isn’t a fashion. When we see people do it, we imitate them and do the same, and then, we feel anointed when other don’t do the same. This is probably what John Baptist’s disciples felt when they came to Jesus and asked him: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
2.2/ Jesus’ disciples shall fast when Jesus leave them: Jesus said to 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.And no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.”
(1) The purpose of fasting is to correctly live one’s relationship with God: Jesus is the groom and the Church is his bride; the disciples are the groom’s friends. If the disciples are having Jesus and listening to his teaching, they don’t need to fast. When Jesus will leave them to go back to his Father, at that time they shall fast. Everything has its own moment, and must be done with a good intention.
(2) One must have a new spirit to receive Jesus’ new teaching: In order to receive Jesus’ teaching, people need to have a new spirit. If they hold on to their own way as a torn garment, they can’t accept Jesus’ new teaching, as liken to a new garment.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We need to understand all meanings of fasting. When we fast, we should do it with good intentions.
– Fasting isn’t to boast, nor to ask for favors; but to correct our unjust acts and to correctly live our relationships with God and others.