FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY
Reading 1: Is 58: 1-9 Isaiah sets forth guidelines for fasting. He tells us how not to fast and then gives the ideal attitude that will make fasting a blessed experience.
Gospel: Mk 9: 14-15 Jesus compares his life with the apostles to a wedding celebration during which fasting would be inappropriate. When the bridegroom is taken away, then they can fast.
A FAST THE GOD DESIRES
During Lent, we hear of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as means of preparation for Easter. Today’s readings talk about fasting. Fasting was an age-old religious custom, that was an external sign of penance and of the humbling ourselves before God.
In the first reading, Prophet Isaiah tells the people that their fast was not pleasing in the eyes of God, because even though they were fasting, they continued to oppress others. For them, fasting remained an external exercise without any interiorization, a habitual practice without bringing about a change of heart. The true spirit and purpose of fasting was to humble oneself and come closer to God. In the Gospel, the disciples of John the Baptist question Jesus as to why his disciples did not fast like they did. The disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees took pride in how meticulously they practised fasting. But Jesus answers them with the imagery of a wedding feast; while the bridegroom is around, the wedding guests cannot possibly fast. They will fast once bridegroom is taken away, a reference to his own impending death at the hands of religious leaders.
Both the readings show a flawed understanding of fasting, which was considered as solely a religious prescription. They did not benefit from the practise, not availing divine acceptance and grace. Their fast remained only on the external level, just as a habitual action, while God intended the fast to be a means of coming closer to him, and of becoming more merciful and compassionate to the people, especially the oppressed of the society. During Lent, the Church recommends fasting as one of the means of spiritual warfare. Let the fast we practise be more meaningful – not just a ritualistic denying of food, but rather, a letting go of one’s hatred, injustice and selfishness. Only a fasting of this kind will be pleasing in the eyes of God, and bring us graces necessary to change our lives for the better.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-6,18-19 A broken and humbled heart, O God, you will not spurn.
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