Why Fast?

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16 February 2018

The idea of fasting is having something of a renaissance including, surprisingly, in secular media. Science once again has caught up with the wisdom of the ancients. Fasting, it turns out is not self-destructive but provides health benefits.

However, there is a partial exception that gives us an insight into Isaiah’s critique of inappropriate fasting. Isaiah calls out ‘bad-tempered’ fasting. A few years ago, my family pointed out to me that I tended to be moody on fast days and so now I try to watch for this in advance. So fast but don’t drag everyone else in with you!

Both the readings seem to question the value of fasting, but this view misses the deeper point. One reason we fast is to liberate ourselves from the stranglehold that things can have over us. In our mass-marketed age, we can be lulled into thinking that we need more than we do. But a (briefly) empty stomach or bored palate won’t kill us. In fact, the absence of many First World ‘essentials’ helps us reconnect both with the truly important and gives us a glimpse of the reality of life for so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Jesus knew how to fast, and He knew how to feast. Both have their place. As Christians, we are in a constant spiritual battle. Our Enemy wants our lives to be filled with dulled excess or desperate neediness. However, Jesus calls us to live our lives “to the full.” Our lives are meant to have times of self-denial and times of joyous celebration, both are necessary.

This Lent, let us each practice some self-denial; for God’s sake, for our neighbour’s; and our own. And don’t forget the party to come!

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