Today’s Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15
In our time and place it is difficult to separate fasting from dieting. Recently I went on a liquid fast to pray for a special intention. Even though my fast was meant to be a prayer and not a means of losing weight, I couldn’t help looking in the mirror from time to time to see: “Am I losing some of that belly fat?”
The Gospel today helps us understand the meaning of fasting and its proper place in our spiritual life. The disciples of John are contrasted with the disciples of Jesus. John was a man for whom fasting was a way of life. He lived on locusts and wild honey and had never tasted strong drink. He knew nothing of fine banquet halls. In fact, he was murdered during a banquet, Herod’s birthday party! So John and his disciples have a strong value for the practice of fasting and other types of asceticism.
Why do Jesus and his disciples not fast, and why doesn’t Jesus live in the desert, eat a sparse diet, and live apart from society? Our Lord describes fasting as an expression of mourning or repentance. As long as the bridegroom is with them, the disciples will not fast. Who is the bridegroom and what does his presence or absence have to do with fasting?
The answer is hidden in the image of the wedding feast, a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven. The bridegroom is the host of this celebration. The wedding banquet is the setting in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, those who had plenty of oil to greet the bridegroom when he arrived, while the foolish ones ran out and were shut outside when the bridegroom came. In another parable, the invited guests make excuses for not joining the wedding celebration and new guests are welcomed from the streets. The house is filled with guests, but only those who have on the wedding garment are allowed to stay.
The Kingdom of Heaven is opened to us through Jesus, and so it’s fitting that he should call himself the Bridegroom. He is the “cause of all our reveling,” says a beautiful Christmas carol, for in his birth we celebrate his presence with us.
He is the reason for the joy we experience in God. So important is this joy, the key virtue of our salvation, that Jesus forbids anything that would diminish it. When Jesus accepts death on the Cross, the bridegroom is taken from the disciples. So now the disciples—the Church—will fast.
Whenever we fast, however, we should remember that fasting and repentance are the means to a lasting reality. Fasting is a passing thing. The lasting reality is joy!
Have I nurtured my joy in God and his gift of salvation to me?
Lord, help me to love you and rejoice in your salvation, like a bride at her wedding feast.
Copyright 2014 Julie Paavola