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Can fasting be in vain?

Friday, February 23, 2007
Friday after Ash Wednesday

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-9; Psalm 50; Matthew 9:14-15

'Why have we fasted, if you do not see, why mortify ourselves if you never notice? Look, you seek your own pleasures on your fastdays' (Isaiah 58:3).

The subject in Isaiah 58 is fasting. The text tells us that the people wanted to know the ways of God. Indeed, it says, they sought him day and night. This being the case then, we must say that the people's desire was commendable.

But this is what is sad about this story. They wanted to get closer to God but they were going about it all the wrong way. This is what has impressed itself on my mind. One may be in desperate need of God, and one may do what seems to be the accepted thing to do, in this case fasting, and it can all be in vain. Let this not be us. Let us not fast in the way that pleases us, but in the way that pleases God. The kind of fast that pleases God is 'to break unjust fetters, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the one you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin' (Isaiah 58:6-7).


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