The WORDS in Other Words by Fr John O Mahony SVD (Philippines)
Friday After Ash Wednesday Lent
We are just three days into Lent and now we notice that Jesus seems to be downgrading fasting, as far as his disciples are concerned. This already shows him to be a different kind of leader from the other rabbis and teachers of his time.
Recall again his words from Ash Wednesday where he warned of the danger of prayers, fasting and almsgiving becoming mere rituals or occasions for display or for other personal agendas we might have.
The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, sheds light on the dialogue between Jesus and John‘s disciples. Through the prophet the Lord accuses the people of seeking his attention by their fasting and penances, but he tells them, “Your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with a wicked claw.” God calls this a useless fasting because it leads to no renewal, no change of heart.
God‘s call for fasting involves “releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed.” It means “sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless.” The fasting that God is calling for demands nothing less than a change of heart for us, which in turn is a letting go of selfishness and the desire for self—preservation at the expense of others. It means putting others‘ needs before our own.
And so Jesus‘s answer to John‘s disciples is deep and challenging. When the bridegroom is taken away from us we will be able to recognize him again when he appears to us over and over again in the hungry poor of our own day, hungry for bread, for justice and for love. In order to recognize the bridegroom when he appears to us we will indeed have to fast from all that would blind us from his presence.