Friday after Ash Wednesday – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 9:14-15

The Gospel more than once contrasts the lifestyle of Jesus with that of John the Baptist. In today’s passage, we see the disciples of John the Baptist (John himself never questions anything that Jesus does) asking Jesus why they and the Pharisees fast regularly, but his disciples do not.

The reason Jesus gave was because it was not normal to fast when the bridegroom was still around. He is the Bridegroom and, as long as he was present, it was a time for celebration. Fasting is a sign of mourning and would be as inappropriate at this time of joy, when Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom, as it would be at a marriage feast.

But there is more than that. Jesus, in his life, pointed his disciples to something deeper and more important than fasting, namely, reaching out in compassion to others bringing joy, comfort, healing into people’s lives. Fasting can be very self-centred, as in the case of the Pharisees who projected the attitude: ‘See how holy I am!’ (as we saw in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday). Jesus expects more than that.

But Jesus does say that when the bridegroom is gone, when Jesus is no longer visibly present, his disciples will fast. At that time, it will be appropriate to fast as a sign of penance and purification. There is a place for asceticism and even penitential acts. The Church (and every other major religion) has recognised that over the centuries.

But it is the reaching out in caring love that is most important. Without that, fasting has no value.

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