I am a pretty literal person. To me, passages this make sense because we are reading the scriptures with post-Resurrection knowledge. We know who Jesus is and that the disciples are right to feast with the Lord – the bridegroom. We know what Jesus means when he says that “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away” (Mt 9:15).
Something more has stuck with me with this passage though, and it reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son, which we will read a little later during Lent. What comes to mind was a question a priest asked in his homily a few years ago.
If you will recall the parable, the older brother was miffed that the father had a fattened calf slaughtered in honor of his younger brother’s return from his perfidious sojourn, while he, the older son, had obeyed his father. The father tells the older brother that all they have, has always been his to enjoy.
Do you do things out of love or obligation?
The priest asked our congregation, “Do you do things out of love or only out of obligation?” The older brother was fulfilling his duty out of obligation but not love; at least that’s how I understood the question. That struck me hard especially because I’m disciplined and dutiful.
I see a parallel here. The followers of John the Baptist are asking Jesus why his disciples were not fasting in accordance with the customs of the day, but Jesus knew that the time for fasting would be once he was crucified. It’s almost as if he is stating that there is no need to fast out of obligation because there will come a time for all who believe in him to fast out of love for him.
Why do you fast?
This begs the question, are you fasting out of love for Jesus, or out of obligation? Are you attending Mass because these are days of obligation, or because you love the Lord and want to sit at his feet and partake of his banquet?
Now, acting out of obligation is not necessarily wrong. Often times we do the right thing out of obligation. We may refrain from gossip, for example, because we feel obliged not to damage another’s reputation but not because we actually have much regard for someone. It’s a harder pursuit to refrain from gossiping about someone because you love that person as a sister or brother in Christ, made in the image and likeness of God.
To act out of obligation is good. To love is better.
What have you chosen to offer during Lent? Are you fasting from something? Are you adding something more to your plate, such an increased prayer time? Or perhaps you pledged to donate to a food drive by buying a few extra groceries for the food bank each time you go to the commissary? Whatever it is you choose to do, strive to do it because of love?
Lord Jesus, During Lent I have given up or taken on (name your lenten offerings), help me to make these sacrifices out of love for you for my neighbor. When I’m weak in my offerings, remind me that you gave your entire life freely out of love for me, your unworthy servant. Bless my obedience to this lenten sacrifice and increase my love for you. Amen.