5th Sunday of Lent
March 28-29, 2020
Fasting is a voluntary, self-sacrificing gift of love and reverence for God. Sacrifice means to “make holy” as we remove anything that stands between us and God. By denying oneself of something good (food) for a greater good (spiritual nourishment and fellowship that comes from intimacy with God), we receive His love and graces in return. Fasting is a true act of penance, humility (brought low), and love, especially when coupled with prayer and almsgiving, the three pillars of lent (Mat. 6:1-16). Fasting reorients our dependency from self back to God who provides us with all blessings (Joel 2:12-14). It causes us to reflect, listen and turn to God which is at the heart of repentance.
Fasting is not an external ritual formality. The wrong disposition in fasting will negate the benefit of a fast. See Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee was very diligent about fasting but was not justified because his fast was rooted in pride and self-appreciation. If we moan and groan about the act of fasting, we become like the Israelites in the wilderness and our fasting becomes a waste of effort. If fasting doesn’t make us hunger and thirst for righteousness, and doesn’t move us to works of mercy, it is not the fasting that God desires and is meaningless and self-engrossing (Isaiah 58:11). As a gift of reverence for God, fasting is expressed in love of neighbor through acts of healing, renewal and justice.
Let’s remember who has fasted before us and why: Moses fasted twice in the presence of God for the ten words (Exod.24:18, 34:28); Elijah fasted to get to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) to see God (1 Kings 19:8); Joel called for a national fast to help the people get right with God (Joel 2:12-14); the people of Nineveh fasted because of Jonah’s prophesy (Jonah 3:1-10); Esther fasted to spare her people’s lives (Esther 12:15-16); Paul fasted after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9); Jesus fasted in the wilderness in preparation for His mission (Mat. 4:1-2, Luke 4:1-2); and Jesus stated that prayer and fasting are necessary to drive out the evil spirit.
The power and blessings of fasting, prayer and almsgiving takes our eyes off of ourselves and the world, and looks with reverence and love to God, places our dependency on Him, and it bestows and develops our spiritual strength in order to walk in Jesus’ footsteps carrying our cross.
Now, I ask you: For whom and why do you fast?