A Question about Fasting – Br. David Vryhof

Matthew 9:14-17

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (v.14)

Fasting was a commonly accepted spiritual practice among the Jews and had been for centuries.  It was recognized as an effective way to express sorrow for sin and a means, hopefully, to avoid God’s judgment.  John the Baptist and his followers and the Pharisees regularly practiced it, not only for their own sakes, but vicariously for the nation.

Jesus stands in contrast to them.  “The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” the Gospel writer tells us (Mt 11:19). Jesus and his disciples do not fast – which naturally raises the curiosity and suspicion of those who do.  Jesus’ nonparticipation in this particular spiritual practice points to its theological weakness.  Fasting, as it is often understood and practiced, emphasizes not what God is doing, but what humans must do in order to humor God into behaving favorably.  Jesus claims this is unnecessary because God is present and active now; the Good News of God’s reign is here!  “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” (v.15a) The “bridegroom” is Jesus himself: through his ministry of healing and reconciliation, as well as through his association with outcasts and sinners, Jesus is proclaiming the arrival of God’s rule. God is not distant and threatening, but present and active, here and now, bringing forth new life!  And that is cause for celebration!

Something new is here.  “In Christ there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (II Cor 5:17)  The images of unshrunk cloth being sewn on a cloak or of new wine being put into old wineskins, underscore the incompatibility of the old and the new.  There will still be times of pain and sadness – Jesus knows his path is leading him towards greater and greater opposition and that it will likely end with his death.  “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from you,” he acknowledges (v.15b).  But that does not prevent Jesus’ followers from celebrating what God is doing among them now.

The contrast puts before us a question: Where have we been directing our attention? Have we been too preoccupied with the evils of the world and with humanity’s failures?  Do we live in a constant state of fear, wringing our hands with worry?  Have we missed seeing the things God is doing now in our lives and in our world?  Rather than bemoaning the tragic consequences of our fallen human state, Jesus invites us to live with joy, constantly alert for signs of God’s grace around and within us.  God is present and at work!  Grace and salvation are here, and are available to us in abundance.  There IS cause for authentic celebration!

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  1. carol carlson on April 3, 2024 at 15:08

    The fact that this was written in the midst of a pandemic, as millions died around us, possibly very near to us, and the Powers continued to ignore and lie about its extent, is a testament to the solidity of the spirituality behind this homily, Br. David. In fact we are always in the midst of death and destruction, and always have to find ways to affirm God’s presence and guiding hand even there. Combatting our natural tendency toward pointless anxiety is essential. If you want to fast, fasting from that is a great idea – what it does for your blood-cortisol is just as good for your body as the practice is good for your soul. I like Paul’s advice to live ‘as if’ the Kingdom were already here, God’s will were perfectly done, our sorrows just blips on the radar. We can’t ignore the suffering of others, or our own; but our reactions to it need to be tempered with the knowledge of the ‘bridegroom’s’ presence with us in the Spirit, and God’s relentless ‘push’ of creation toward healing, justice and peace. May we live to see it in our time!

  2. Randy LaRosa on April 3, 2024 at 12:20

    Thank you Brother David for giving us your wonderful insight into God’s love and Gifts happening at this very moment.

  3. George Barlow on April 3, 2024 at 09:37

    “Fear not: only believe.” Trust that you’ve been incarnated for God’s purposes, not your own.

    “ The human heart is simple. Life, viewed from a great height, is simple. The happy life is the good life, and the happy man, the man carrying out the purpose of life has nothing to fear, not death, not even the devil.”

    From Bruce Duffy’s novel The World as I Found It

  4. Kellianne on April 3, 2024 at 07:56

    From where I am sitting a dove is cooing and cleaning in the morning sun. How much I would like to be like this dove. What do I do with the voice inside that asks: have I fasted enough, have I this or have I that? Clearly I see this dove living, breathing, cleaning and singing. Joy really.

  5. Reed Saunders on April 3, 2024 at 05:11

    Thank you Br David. I need to be open to God’s presence right now.

  6. Tamasine Plowman on April 3, 2024 at 03:20

    This seems especially relevant today if we dwell on all our failures as humankind we will forget how to share the true joy of God’s love . Thankyou Brother Vryhof.

  7. David Duncan on January 10, 2023 at 10:07

    Thanks for your comment on today’s “Word,” presence. I’m afraid I do get picky about one thing. Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father (if you’ll forgive the gendered title).” It’s the Holy Sprit that is present. Admittedly the Spirit is Jesus’ spirit too, but I think it is important, nonetheless, to keep the trinitarian distinction available.

  8. Suzanne Haraburd on January 10, 2023 at 09:20

    Thank you for a needed reminder.

  9. Julianne Lindemann on January 10, 2023 at 07:01

    Thank you, Brother Vryhof. This is beautiful and nourishing. Celebration is called for, indeed!

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