Thursday 18 December 2014

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today's readings speak of a common theme and that theme is "fasting." When we speak of fasting, some of us may begin to assume that it means not taking certain food or drink; or not eating a particular meal; or even not eating for a certain period of time (such as from dawn to dusk). But is that the kind of fasting we are supposed to do?

In today's reading, we are told that there are some people who fast just to put on a show. The reading tells us: "Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?’ Look, you do business on your fast-days, you oppress all your workmen; look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast and strike the poor man with your fist. Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high. Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a truly penitential day for men? Hanging your head like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord?" When we supposingly fast from food or drink without love, without right conduct and without right action, we are merely making a mockery out of fasting. If this is what we do, then why fast in the first place? Are we trying to win a popularity contest or something? Do we expect others to see us fasting for our own personal gratification, while we continue to put on a sad or monkey face, but at the same time be nasty or ruthless in our behaviour and conduct?

Instead, the reading tells us about the right way to fast: "Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me, to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin?" When we fast with love, mercy and compassion, the reading tells us: "Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over." Let us not be hypocrites in fasting only to win recognition and admiration among men, but do what is pleasing to God.

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