In Lent we go through great efforts to deny ourselves. Yet today’s readings calls into question our motives for doing so. Are we trying to impress others? Are we trying to impress God? We may be able to impress others but we most certainly will not impress God. God knows our thoughts and the secrets of our heart.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high. (Isaiah 58:3–4)
Fasting is merely a way of seeking God. It is not for show. Rather, fasting is a way of tuning out our earthly concerns.
The disciples of John asked Jesus:
“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. (Matthew 9:14–15)
The disciples of Jesus had God in their midst. There was no need to fast. Only God can build up our spiritual life. We cannot do it ourselves. We cannot prepare ourselves to receive the holiness of God’s presence without his participation. Jesus said:
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16–17)
Our first step towards Him must always be repentance. We need new wineskins. God’s new wine will not fit in old wine skins. The psalmist King David prayed:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51:1–3)