Every year at the beginning of Lent, I’m encouraged and excited about it. However after a few weeks (like today), I start growing weary of the fasting and penance. So in order to remind myself of why we’re keeping Lent, here are more reflections on what Bible teaches about fasting and self-denial:
1. Fasting as a Preparation for a Divine Event
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, self-denial is a way of preparing spiritually for something spiritually important. Of course, in Lent we are spiritually preparing the the Easter celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Moses fasted for forty days in preparation for receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28). The prophet Daniel fasted for three weeks before receiving his vision (Dan 10:2-6). Elijah the prophet fasted forty days before God spoke to him (1 Kings 19:8). And we all know that Christ our Savior fasted for forty days in preparation for His temptation by the devil and for the beginning of His ministry (Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13).
2. Fasting as Penitence
A few weeks ago we looked at the Bible verses for penitence or repentance. The fact is that we are sinners. Self-denial, then, has a twofold purpose. First, penance is a outward sign of an inward contrition. We outwardly express to God our inward sorrow for sin.
Secondly, penance or self-sacrifice is a remedy for future sin. If you teach yourself to say “no” to good things (meat, desserts, comforts, marital pleasure) then you strengthen your will to resist bad things (sin). For example, you’re not going to be able to rescue someone pinned under a car (a bad thing) if you don’t daily lift weights and build muscle (a good thing).
The concept of penance or self-sacrifice is all over the Bible. Jonah prophesied the destruction of pagan Nineveh, but the Ninevites fasted as a sign of repentance and God spared them (Jonah 3:3-9). The Jewish Day of Atonement was an annual day of obligation of fasting for all Hebrews (Numbers 29:7). In fact, whenever Israel sinned, they “humbled themselves,” wore sackcloth, put on ashes, and fasted in order to show God their sorrow for sin (cf. Judges 20:26, 1 Sam 7:6).
3. Fasting for Sorrow
In the Bible, sometimes fasting simply shows sorrow. When tragic things happen, we sometimes lose our appetite naturally. This human experience is also found in Scripture. King David fasted as a sign of grief when Abner was killed (2 Samuel 3:35). There was also a seven-day fast at the death of Saul (1 Samuel 31:13). During Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday, we should be fasting for sorrow, because the “Bridegroom has been taken away from us” (cf. (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35).
So keep up your penance and reflect on Christ as the Crucified One in order to find strength. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us! We’re almost half way through Lent.