Friday after Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)
Some wonder about the need to fast. They point to Isaiah’s critique of Judah’s fasting in the first reading today and say working for social justice is what God requires. For them serving sandwiches in a soup kitchen is a much better practice of Lenten piety than not eating ourselves.
But fasting is an age-old way of expressing love. Through it one lays aside attention to her own needs, to assist others. People deny themselves of sleep – a form of fasting -- to attend to a sick friend through the night. Others do not eat as a kind of social protest to express solidarity with a group suffering persecution.
We do not fast –at least for religious reasons –as an exercise of our endurance. No, we attach fasting to a felt need like expressing compassion for a group in distress or showing love for God. We rightly see fasting along with almsgiving and prayer as part of a three-stranded rope that supports the heaviest tension. We fast and pray. We fast and give our food (or the money saved by not eating) to the poor. In these ways we please God and neighbor.