Isaiah 58:1-9; Matthew 9:14-15
What a great reminder for the beginning of Lent. According to today’s first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, there is a right way and a wrong way to fast. It’s a wonderful and challenging passage that has applications far beyond this one religious act (fasting). As Isaiah puts it here, the right way to fast is really a way to be genuinely religious and, for the Christian, adequately to imitate Christ.
First, how NOT to fast -- that would be to be so focused on ourselves that we can’t really see beyond ourselves. Isaiah’s words excoriate those who (allegedly) fast and yet “drive all your laborers,” and let their fasting end in “quarreling and fighting, striking with a wicked claw.”
Well, then, how DO we fast? The kind of fasting that God wants (according to Isaiah) is pretty much the opposite of the above. The right way to fast is to be persons who look outside of ourselves to those in need around us. Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked – that’s what fasting is all about.
Hearing these qualities of fasting I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 25) in describing why some are saved and others are not. “Whenever you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me,” Jesus says to those who fed the hungry, visited prisoners, clothed the naked, or performed other actions in service of others.
Christ rewards simple, ordinary actions that we may even tend to take for granted. Lent gives us the needed opportunity to look at ourselves from the perspective of this kind of fasting. Can I be open to the poor and the needy around me? Do I need to be more attentive to others or is the focus in my life squarely on myself?
We need to give these and similar questions a chance to surface and to be answered. Lent gives us all a chance to see and to reflect on what is of ultimate importance to us. Let us pray for the openness to accept the challenges these questions offer us.
By Tom Shanahan