Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which one denies himself/herself some pleasures to draw close to God. We also fast when we voluntarily reduce our intake of food for a certain period to achieve a particular spiritual purpose or any other particular intention.
Many fast from food and water as a way of showing how sorry they feel for the sins they have committed. Others commit to fasting as a way of tapping a favour from God.
Whichever way we see fasting, the truth is that fasting has a spiritual undertone and almost practiced in every religion.
Today, many see this spiritual discipline as a way of pressuring God to answer their prayer and do their request. Many fast for the sake of ceremonial purposes.
They fast because during lent we need to fast. While some fast because they saw others fasting. True fasting is not anyway among these. What then is the true fast that pleases God?
The True Fast.
In the first reading of today’s Isaiah 58:1-9, God is asking the Israelites the essence of their fasting but yet they are oppressing the poor. They fast but yet they are quarreling and bringing squabbles among themselves.
What is the essence of their fasting while many are seriously committing evil? What is the essence of their fasting when their hearts are very far away from God and they are oppressing and intimidating the poor among them?
According to Isaiah, the fasting that pleases God is the one that comes from the heart. The fasting that pleases God is when we stop injustice and discrimination among ourselves.
It is the fasting from evil, immorality, oppression, wickedness, hatred, envy, jealousy, etc. The fasting that pleases God is not how gloomy our faces appear, but how much we desire to help the poor, downtrodden, sharing our bread with the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked and helping those in need. When we do this, then our light will shine, our wounds will heal.
The first reading says that this is when we can then cry and the Lord will hear from us and his glory will go behind us in everything that we do.
What God desires.
In the gospel, John’s disciples came to Jesus to ask Him the reason His disciples do not fast while the Pharisees fast. Jesus answers them that as long as the bridegroom is still with them, then there is no need for the wedding attendants to begin to mourn. But when the bridegroom is taken from them, they can then fast. Here, Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom and the disciples as His wedding attendants.
Jesus is not against fasting. He once taught His disciples how to fast in Matthew 6:6-18. The truth here is that the Pharisees fast as a way they are preparing and longing for the coming of the Messiah, ask special favour from God and atone for their sins.
What Jesus is trying to say is that the reason they are fasting is already with them. Jesus is the messiah, He atones for our sins and through Him, we receive special favour from God. So, to fast when He is already with the apostles looks absurd.
Therefore, instead of fasting and awaiting for the messiah, they have to know that the Messiah is already there with them. So, there is no need for fasting since the reason they fast is already with them.
What the messiah then demands is not more fasting but to be close to Him and accept His message of the Kingdom of God. Then by it, they will be saved.
Therefore, what the messiah demands more now is to be close to Him. There is no need fasting when He is now with them.
So, closeness with the Lord is what God desires from them now, rather than keeping a ceremonial fast.
In essence, God demands us to be more close to Him more and accept Him wholeheartedly rather than keeping a ceremonial fast like the Pharisees.
Therefore, our Lenten fast must be accompanied with total repentance from sin and willingness to be close to God.
During the Lenten season, many people go into fasting because they see others fasting. Some people see it as a way to fasten God’s heart and draw His mercy upon us.
Fasting is good for our spiritual growth. Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), the apostles fasted (Acts 13:2; 14:23; 1 Cor 7:5, Acts 27:9). So, there is nothing wrong when we fast. But the fasting that God desires is not the ceremonial keeping of the law as the Pharisees do, yet their hearts are very far away from God.
The fasting that God demands is the fasting that is accompanied with total repentance.
The Pharisees fast for the Messiah and yet they could not recognize the Messiah when He came.
So, the true fast is not trying to fast because we see others fasting, or fasting because Lent demands that we fast. We do not fast in order to force God to do something.
Some people do complain “I fasted and yet nothing happened”. God is not a machine that we can drive Him anyhow we want. We fast so that our spiritual life will grow. Also, We fast to increase our relationship with Him. We do not fast to move Him left or around. God does things the way He wants.
He needs more of our closeness. What God desires more is for us to turn from our evil ways and be close to Him.
It is through this perfect relationship that one can gain favour from the Lord. The fasting that pleases God hence is the one that can draw us more close to Him. It is fasting from faithlessness, weakness, doubts, and every form of evil.
The fasting that God needs is those good acts that will certainly draw us close to Him. He needs to be closer to us. True fasting is not avoiding food and appearing gloomy because others are doing so.
True fasting is when you fast from those things that do not give God glory in your life. Remember the Pharisees also fast but Jesus still calls them hypocrites.
What is that thing in your life that cripples the spirit in you? Fast from it. What are those things that you do always and which anger the heart of the Father? Fast from them.
Fast from wickedness, jealousy, backbiting, quarrelling, hatred, intimidation, fast from immoral behaviours, fast from lukewarmness, fast from prayerlessness, fast from mechanical spirituality etc.
The sacrifices to God are nothing but a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Don’t call your bodily sacrifice alone a fast; you may fast but your heart is very far from God.
Isaiah 58:6 says “Is not this the fast that I choose from you: that you loose every chain and bonds of wickedness, to allow the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke among you?”.
True fast is to loose the bonds of wickedness, immorality, pornography, spirit of abortion, hatred, fornication, prayerlessness, hypocrisy, family quarrels and dissensions. It is a call to be free from the bondage of sin.
True fast is repentance from those things that anger the heart of the Father. True fast is what makes God happy. God rewards it.
I pray that God in His infinite mercy forgives us today, and help us fast from those things that keep us far from Him. Amen. God bless you.