Monday 17 January 2022 – ARE WE ACCUSTOMED TO FASTING?

Second Week in Ordinary Time

1st Reading: 1Sm 15:16-23

Samuel said to Saul: “Stop! Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” Saul replied, “Speak!”  Samuel then said: “Though little in your own esteem, are you not leader of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king of Israel and sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and put the sinful Amalekites under a ban of destruction. Fight against them until you have exterminated them.’ Why then have you disobeyed the LORD? You have pounced on the spoil, thus displeasing the LORD.” Saul answered Samuel:  “I did indeed obey the LORD and fulfill the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought back Agag, and I have destroyed Amalek under the ban. But from the spoil the men took sheep and oxen, the best of what had been banned, to sacrifice to the LORD their God in Gilgal.” But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.”

Gospel: Mk 2:18-22 

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected,

“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 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 then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

ARE WE ACCUSTOMED TO FASTING?: Jesus is challenging how and why the Pharisees fast. Fasting in itself is not bad if done with the right intention. But if done for the sake of self-justification, then we lose the right motivation. Like the Pharisees, we each have a life routine. But why do we do have such practices? What are our intentions? Like Saul, some of our intentions are selfish. The prophets challenge such mere sacrifice, without proper disposition of the heart – empty piety. Jesus joins this prophetic tradition to challenge our customs, which have lost the Divine inspiration. This old way of thinking must be replaced by the new way that Christ brings. Jesus fasts because it unites him to the Father and to those in need; it is not a mere custom. He has positive reasons to do what he does. To have proper Godly reasons for our actions, is true worship (1 Peter 3:15).

Prayer: O Lord help us to act with conviction and not merely because we are accustomed.

****

THE MIND OF CHRIST: Jesus brings about a radical shift in the way we are to relate to God and to each other. The traditional ways of the Pharisees and John the Baptist was the loyalty to God expressed through strict observation of laws and external practices. The way of Jesus is quite different. It is primarily interior rather than just exterior. It is ultimately rooted in relationships based on love, a love that always seeks the well-being of the other. If we judge what Jesus does by the old ways, we will have difficulties. We need, as Paul says, “to have the mind of Christ”. There are people who still see sin as primarily the breaking of laws and rules rather than a breakdown in loving relationships with God, with others, and with self. It is possible to be perfectly ‘orthodox’, following the doctrines of the Church to the last detail and yet be devoid of love in the way one’s life is lived. Definitely, we need fresh wines in fresh wine skins!

****

THE GUIDING LIGHT: Fasting was seen as a religious practice and an obligation. It was seen as a symbol of repentance. To that extend, everyone was expected to follow the laid down procedures. In adherence to their rules, the leaders wanted Jesus to disregard His mantle of being a reformer, and bringing more flocks into their gatherings. They expected Him to draw mileage into their religious practices and traditions. They attempt to trap Jesus. This reminds us of a practice among some inhabitants of a village, who drop a handful of germinated peanuts into an aluminum vessel with a narrow neck and leave it among the bushes. The fragrance of the peanuts invites the monkeys. Once lured into the hunter’s trap, the monkey can only escape by releasing the peanuts. Nevertheless, many fail to realize this only way of escape and so fall prey. Jesus refuses to fall into the trap laid by the leaders. On our part, how often are we caught up in our worldly things and fail to release them and so fail to be uplifted and liberated?