Scripture: Lectionary 222 (Friday, Feb.24. Isaiah 58:1-9. Psalm 51:3-4.5-6.18-19. Matthew 9:14-15
Fasting is the theme for today, the second day of our Lenten Journey with Jesus. Matthew gives us the perspective about fasting both in this passage and what is narrated in the Sermon on the Mount. This Sermon is the bigger picture of what Jesus asks of us and should frame our Lent with this more universal perspective. Fasting is not done by Jesus disciples for as long as he, the bridegroom is among them. Thus there is a theme of the presence of Jesus working with his disciples in the plan of God we call salvation history. But what about us who during Lent? We seem to think fasting is the toughest thing to do among the three proposed actions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? The Scriptures tell us otherwise and give us a new way of looking at fasting.
Isaiah does this by showing that fasting is seen more as freeing captives, helping the poor, visiting the sick. We recognize his list as close to what we call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These are in front of us as works to be done all throughout Lent. Our Lenten fasting and abstinence has been reduced to yesterday, Ash Wednesday. So we have only Good Friday left for the stricter and limited concept of fasting. Jesus is dying on the cross and is not going to be with his disciples till his resurrection. The bridegroom is being taken away from the disciples of Jesus, so we fast on Good Friday and abstain in memory of this on the other Fridays. We are probably eating healthier on these Fridays in Lent!
Creative fasting is what the prophet is calling for and this too is the thought of Jesus who is concerned with healing people and bringing the Good News of the Kingdom to all who will listen. Fasting is not one of his preoccupations in his ministry. The Scriptures push us to think of fasting in doing good works for others as we frequently see in Isaiah, Psalm 51, and in Jesus’ teachings. Paying attention to these works is a form of fasting from our distractions, our personal gratifications, and turning to the other. What are the corporal works of mercy? Can you enumerate them? The Catechism both old and new tell us they are the following: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead.
These acts are quite specific and practical and some of them can be carried out during this Lent as an act of fasting from our own preferences. We are not the disciples of John the Baptist who fasted often, but disciples of the Lord the bridegroom among us in the person of others. We can be creative and more in touch with the spirit of fasting by being generous with our time, by listening carefully to others and allowing them to speak when they are shy, to be patient, and keep doing “random acts of kindness.” We join with the reasonableness of Jesus, the guidance of the Holy Spirit helping us to think creatively and to do these corporal works of mercy. Lent is not “giving up” but rather “giving out and going out of ourselves.” Amen.