Today in Scripture we are encouraged to use fasting for one purpose alone: to grow closer to Jesus. There are so many reasons to fast, but only one good one. We are to deny ourselves good things in the material realm for the sake of growing spiritually in Christ, and therefore sharing what He gives.
Isaiah had a difficult job. He was to tell people who think they are doing well that they are really not. In fact, he was to tell them of their wickedness. I don’t know about you, but I cringe at the idea of being told that I am wicked. The way he was to tell them is interesting — he gives them a little examination of conscience, both personal and collective. I will paraphrase and add a little modern nuance…
Yes, it is true that on the outside you look pretty righteous. You have wealth, and you share it with others who need it. You personally donate to charity, as a nation you help those in need and in crisis, and throughout the world you are known to give aid. And, of course, you are fasting.
But I ask you, what about the people in front of you? Is there someone hurting in your family that you are ignoring? Do you have loving conversations about things that matter with those close to you, or do you just argue politics? Is there anyone in your life who could use a phone call or a note of kindness?
Moreover, are there any people suffering in your community? Perhaps a neighbor who needs her driveway plowed? What about the schoolmate whose father was deported to Mexico just because of his “illegal” status? What about the homeless men and women who are standing in the cold asking for money?
God, through His prophets, goes on and on about the same things, all of which can be summed up in the commandment that Jesus gives us: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (cf Mt 22:37-40). The prophet Amos (the first prophet to the Israelites) is quoted in today’s Gospel acclamation: Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord will be with you. This simple message is as true now as it was then. Isaiah makes it clear that we are to ease the suffering of others in whatever way we can. We fast for the sake of attunement to those in need — by denying ourselves we will become better able to accompany others. We fast with them. That which we deny ourselves we give to them.
Is that not what Jesus, our bridegroom, did for us — giving His earthly life so that we might have eternal life?