Additional Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
March 2 - 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The Kind of Fasting That God Wants
††(Mt 9:14-17; Mk 2:18-22 and 4:26-29; Lk 5:33-39)
††††† In the Bible, fasting was considered a kind of human humiliation before God. It was practiced to make prayers more effective, in moments of danger and trials. The religious law specified days of fasting, during which people should refrain from eating in remembrance of the great national calamities and to ask for divine intercession. Fasting was also done as personal devotion. In Jesusí time, the practice was given even greater significance. The Pharisees and the rest of the religious fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. John the Baptist, a truly austere prophet, must have probably inculcated the need for fasting among his disciples. That is why Matthew and Thomas appear as faithful observers of this custom in this episode. Fasting, like other religious practices, was severely criticized† by the prophets of Israel. They had become a kind of spiritual blackmail through which unjust people thought they could win God, neglecting what is essential in the religious attitude: justice. In their worship, in the use of incense and prayers, and severe forms of penitence, they sought merit before God in order to save themselves. The prophets protested against this caricature of God and religion and clearly pointed out the kind of ďfasting† that God wantsĒ: Freeing the oppressed, sharing oneís bread, opening prison doors (Is 58:1-12). Jesus certainly acknowledged this prophetic message.
††††† A mistaken notion about religion might make us believe that God loves us more or grants us more favors if we make sacrifices. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with this. When a person feels sick or is confronted with a serious problem that cannot be solved, when a person is scared, then he or she turns to heaven. Since people believe that their fate depends on God, they seek to satisfy God. Out of these beliefs come promises (pilgrimages, use of special clothes, prayers...), sacrifices (fasting, other corporal mortifications, hair shirts, flagellations...) generally these practices reflect the idea of a horrible God: God must be a sadist who is appeased by our pains, who softens only with our sufferings. This God is not the God of the Bible, not Jesusí God. Let us remember those idols of stone before which primitive people sacrificed animals so that the smell of blood would pacify their ire. The God Jesus speaks about, the God he calls ďPapaĒ does not want to see us suffering and scared; he wants to set us free, he understands and waits for us. He is a God who cannot be bought, who wants us to love him. He only asks justice and humility from us: He does not want us to feel superior nor inferior to anyone. (Mic 6:8).
††††† In order to rid Thomas and Matthew and the rest of this commercial concept of merit in order to win God, Jesus tells the parable of the seed that grows alone. It is a way of telling us to be humble, that salvation does not depend on us. We go to sleep peacefully, with the assurance that God watches over our lives. This is not in contradiction with the work that God entrusts to us to change the course of history. Our work is an indispensable complement. We need to work, but not to the point of exhausting oneís self, trusting that God is most concerned that we succeed in our work. To avoid egoism, we must not worry about our fate as much as we do about the fate of our brothers and sisters.
††††† In the first Christian community, the practice of fasting was accepted as a preparation for the selection of Church leaders (Acts 13:2-3). Fasting is not mentioned in any of the letters of the apostles. Later, through the centuries in Christian civilization, the custom was imposed. One must take into account that fasting was a common practice in many Oriental religions, as a form of hygienic measure or health practice. It is believed that fasting once a week could be beneficial for the body. A lot of doctors recommend this practice even today. Abstinence (refraining from eating meat and substituting fish instead) a practice that has persisted to the present time, traces its origin more to the economic rather than the religious aspect. In the XII century, great quantities of salted fish were marketed; the fish were stored in the monasteries which had the monopoly of this product. From here came the religious law of abstinence. These are only two examples, indicating that we must always analyze and try to find out how these practices of penitence came about. Not one of them can be traced to Jesus. The message of the gospel is demanding, but not in this respect. It demands justice, equality, and freedom. Jesus brings out Godís mercy for the sinners and his special affection for the oppressed, never his fastidiousness with respect to merits that we can do. Jesus was a joyful man who was accused of being a wine drinker and a glutton by those who engaged in fasting. Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was like a banquet, a wedding and a feast. Yes, and this is what is authentically Christian.
(Mt 9:14-17; Mk 2:18-22 and 4:26-29; Lk 5:33-39)
Taken from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 1 (Chapter
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