LENT: Day 4 - Fasting
Saturday, February 17 2018
Today is Day 4 of Lent.
Yesterday, we were reflecting on being “in the desert”, and the hard work of quietness and examination of the soul that we all must do there once we finally find ourselves alone with God.
Today we will consider another aspect of Jesus’ time in the desert: fasting.
Matthew 4:2 says: “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Luke 4:2 says: “… for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” Obviously, during the time that Jesus spent in the desert, he ate no food. That is why he was hungry. That is why the devil’s first temptation was that Jesus might use His power as the Son of God to turn a stone into bread.
Jesus knew that fasting is a very powerful spiritual weapon in battle. In the critical moments of life, moments of great transcendence or of dire need, fasting helps us to concentrate our entire being on seeking God, on finding His strength, His will, His divine help in difficult situations. A fast where we truly seek God, and not a fast for mere religious penitence, is a spiritual tool that empowers prayer, that invests it with greater authority, that makes it more effective and helps us to secure the victory.
Jesus knew all this. Upon entering a period of severe temptation by the devil, and before beginning His new ministry of preaching the good news, of healing and deliverance, He knew that He needed the strength and the spiritual authority that only a prolonged period of fasting and prayer could afford Him. And that is why he ate no food for 40 days and 40 nights.
But during His time in the desert, Jesus “fasted” other things as well. He fasted His comfort: where was He bathing, where was He resting and sleeping? He fasted His safety: Mark’s gospel mentions that “he was with the wild animals” (1:13). He fasted the company of family and friends: he was completely alone for 40 days, without the encouragement and the help that others might have offered him.
Fasting, then, is not simply abstinence from food for either a short or long period of time. It can also be a giving up of our bad habits, our unacceptable behaviours, our hurtful words, even ways of thinking and feeling that do not please God. We can fast from certain disagreeable attitudes of the heart, attitudes of pessimism and complaining, of anger and bitterness, or of pride.
Fasting is also not a personal denial in order to simply comply with external gestures. Fasting should be practiced with the purpose of drawing nearer to God, of seeking His truth, His strength, His direction and His help.
Fasting, although it is done in a specific moment or period of time as “a one-time sacrifice”, should also be part of “a life of sacrifice”. In Isaiah 58, God spoke through the prophet explaining to the people of Israel the difference between the fast they were offering Him, and the true fast that He desired:
“Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (vs.3-5)
The people of Israel complied with the external expressions of fasting: not eating, a bowed head, lying in sackcloth and ashes. But at the same time they were living selfish lives, exploiting and quarreling and fighting violently with each other. God wanted to show them a better way: the sacrifice of a simple fast means nothing, and does not please God, if it is not accompanied by “a life of sacrifice”.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? … Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (vs.6-10)
Do we want God to hear us? Do we want to live in the light of salvation, of justice and glory? Then we must fast not just a meal or two, but our selfishness, our injustices, our quarrels, our violence. We must live holy lives, offering freedom, sharing with the poor, living free of judgment and pride. Living like this, fasting like this – this is acceptable and pleasing unto God.
Dear friends: let’s take some time in prayer to ask God if there is something in our lives, besides food, that He would like us to be fasting during these days of Lent. May He teach us and help us to fast as He would like us to; so that our voice might be heard on high (vs.4,5); and so that “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (v.11)
Dear friends: tomorrow is Sunday. According to Lenten tradition, Sundays represent small “resurrections” pointing towards the supreme Resurrection of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago, and they are not literally a part of the 40 days of Lent. Let’s simply rejoice tomorrow, Sunday, with gratitude in our hearts – and if you would like, read Psalm 84 for your personal reflection and prayer.
Have a wonderful day of praise, of rest and of delight in God’s presence.
Lord willing, we will meet again on Monday, Day 5 of Lent.
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