John’s disciples and the Pharisees had a habit of fasting. Some people asked Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but yours don’t?”
Jesus said, “The wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they can’t fast. But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
“No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes; otherwise, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old leather wineskins; otherwise, the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost and the wineskins destroyed. But new wine is for new wineskins.”
Fasting. The typical lenten practice. This time of season, people ask a couple of questions, “What will you be giving up for lent?” and “Are you going to be fasting?”
The purpose of Lent is to prepare one for a renewal of commitment to following Jesus (a lot of baptism and reconciliation services happen after Lent). This preparation is done by giving up various luxuries - chocolate, alcohol, facebook, meat, sex, etc. It’s usually accompanied by various acts of piety and charity - extra prayers, fasting, serving, caring for the poor, etc. All to draw one closer to Christ.
But what if we missed something? Something that’s been staring us in the face for a couple of millenia. Notice Jesus answer to the question about fasting:
“The wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they can’t fast.”
My question would be...
Why are we fasting? Is Christ present or not?
Ah! Now that’s an interesting question!
While I completely get the idea of following tradition, maybe tradition needs to be tweaked. All year long we teach that Christ is present, that he’s “G_d with us.” But during the Lenten season we don’t act like it. And, to be honest, we don’t act like it throughout the rest of the year either.
Why is that? Do we not believe that Christ is present? Are we still tied to the old Empirical Religious model that states that G_d is “up there” somewhere and “someday” G_d will come “down here”? That, my sisters and brothers, is an outdated, fear-based, model. G_d is not “out there.”
G_d is here.
G_d is with us.
G_d is in us.
G_d is all around us.
And we are in G_d.
Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is already among you.” And later he said, “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” St. Paul said, “In God we live, move, and exist.” So, if G_d’s Realm “is already among” us, and Jesus is with us “every day,” and we “live, move, and exist” in G_d, why do we act like these things aren’t true? If we acted this way in our most intimate relationships, our significant others would ask us to seek professional help! And I’m saying that G_d is asking us the same thing!
We don’t need a season of repentance. Our lives should be one spent on reflection. We should always be comparing ourselves to Christ and The Way he established and letting go of those things that don’t help us along The Way. When we see those things that don’t line up (and mine are glaringly obvious), we should discard them.
From what I understand about Buddhism, this is called “letting go.” Attachment is the source of suffering. We all suffer because of our attachment. Letting go - of things, loved ones, ideologies, etc. - relieves suffering. Letting go, alleviating suffering, is obtained by giving. And giving is exactly the fast that G_d calls us to:
[What] I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.
Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.
Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,
If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.
The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.
So if we’re going to fast, let’s fast the way The Eternal One wants us to fast - by giving food to the hungry, release the oppressed and downtrodden, stop speaking badly of others, putting others before ourselves, loving G_d, our neighbors, and our enemies. Let’s be Christ to those we meet, and look for Christ within them.
And this season of Lent, don’t just make it a season. Make it a lifelong journey. Because The Eternal One is with us!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC