In today’s Gospel, from Mark 2:18-22, we see Jesus ask the people, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them” (Mark 2:19)? He asks this question in response to an inquiry about why Jesus’ disciples are not conducting the proper fast. This question has many layers of understanding behind it. So, let’s first set the stage with some proper background information. This will help us better understand where this question stems from, and why fasting is important.
In typical Jewish tradition, the Jews fasted on the Day of Atonement, asking forgiveness of sins. They would do this because they knew that sin separates us from God. Fasting reminds us of our need for food and for God, who provides all, to meet our needs. Thus, fasting brings us in touch with our need for God, who not only provides, but forgives our sins.
What is Jesus Asking/Stating?
Now, to understand Jesus’ question, we need to peel away the layers of the onion, so to speak.
- In Jesus’ question, He declares Himself as the bridegroom.
- In Catholic theology, we see Jesus as the Bridegroom and His Church as the Bride. As in a marriage, where the “two become one flesh” (Matt 19:5), Jesus and His Church unite as one.
- So, if Jesus, as God, is united with His disciples, then why would they need to be reminded of God’s presence? They are in God’s presence.
- And since Jesus is in their presence, then why would they need to seek forgiveness of sins? For us to reside in God’s presence, united with Christ, we must be free of mortal sin.
So, what Jesus is stating, in the form of a question, is that His disciples do not need to fast while He is present among them. Jesus solidifies this point by declaring, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast on that day” (Mark 2: 19-20).
The Importance of Fasting
So, our bridegroom has been taken away, and now we fast. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, at a minimum, help us acknowledge our need for God, and the need to be forgiven of our sins. We also fast for spiritual purposes, throughout the year, as a form of intercessory prayer, on behalf of others. Even from a secular perspective, fasting helps to cleanse the body, and set us anew. As a follow-on to last Wednesday’s post on the virtue of Temperance, fasting is a way to get our passions under control, by exhibiting and practicing self-control. Give the concept of fasting some consideration as a possible Lenten sacrifice. However, if you embrace fasting on a routine basis, going forward, just make sure that you don’t overdo it. Take fasting seriously. refrain from doing it more than once per week for health reasons.
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