Friday after Ash Wednesday

Scripture Readings: Is 58:1-9a; Mt. 9:14-15 

During Lent we’re encouraged to fast.  But there’s one quality so essential to fasting that without it fasting is useless.  That quality is true repentance.  In the parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector, the Pharisee, trusting in himself, fasted twice a week. While the tax collector beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Jesus said that only the tax collector went home justified.     

St. Simeon the New Theologian writes, “I know a man who did not fast, nor keep vigils, who did not sleep on the bare earth, nor impose on himself other arduous tasks; but, recalling his sins, became humble, and for this the most compassionate Lord saved him.  ‘Because the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and those whose spirit is crushed he will save’ ” (Ps. 34:18).

Yet, we are encouraged to fast. Why?  As a penance for our sins? Yes. To strengthen us against temptation and tame our passions? Yes. But there’s another reason to fast that isn’t about ourselves. Holy Job was a righteous man who fasted not for his own sake but for his children, so that his prayer with fasting would help them if they needed repentance.  Jesus fasted for our sakes, and like him we can fast for the sake of others, for those dear to us and for the whole world that desperately needs the good leaven of Christians praying and making sacrifices for those who need repentance.