The disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’
Just two days ago we began our Lenten pilgrimage. On Ash Wednesday we reflected upon Jesus’ call to give alms, pray and fast in a new way, in a way that focuses on the personal relationship we seek with God. Just two days ago many of us will have begun our journey through Lent by committing ourselves to giving something up. So … how is it going? Are you still firm in your resolve, or have you already given way to temptation?
If you have been tempted to indulge in whatever it was that you promised to set aside for Lent you will have noticed something. Nothing significant seems to have happened. The world has not stopped spinning. Your friends and neighbours are still talking to you. Life goes on, but … of course, you know! And … God knows!
As with our new year resolutions, so with our Lenten disciplines. We simply forget what our promise is about. Too often, the promises to deny ourselves revolve around some ulterior motive. Very often that motive is associated with weight loss or the need for reassurance that we are not addicted to something. But … and God really does understand this … human beings are weak. We are easily distracted. No matter how strong and worthy our intentions may be, we are easily distracted. In today’s reading Jesus excuses his disciples apparent lack of self-control by explaining that they are celebrating being in his presence. Our intention to give something up for Lent should be based upon our desire to share in that same celebration.
Jesus does not walk the earth in physical form as he did two thousand years ago, but he is still present among us. In order that we might experience that presence we are called to set aside the distractions of this world and allow ourselves to enter into the true and absolute joy of walking with him down whatever paths he may have prepared for us to walk. Sometimes we will slip off that path. But, when we do slip, or when we forget those resolutions made with the intention of helping us to come closer to God, Jesus is there to help us back on the straight and narrow.
Jesus’ disciples were criticized by the disciples of John, who was renowned for his abstemious way of life. The ongoing fasting of John’s disciples demonstrated their distraction with earthly concerns. If they had seen that which was obvious to Jesus’ disciples, they would have realized that the time of fasting had passed … for the time being, anyway.
For us there will be celebration. The joy of the resurrection marks an end of the time of fasting and self-deprivation. In the meantime, as we await our Easter celebrations, let us pause and journey through this time of reflection and prayer with renewed determination. If we have already slipped in our resolve, let us pick ourselves up and join Jesus again as he walks with us. Remember, he will not blame us, rather he will rejoice that we have turned back and picked up the journey once again.