The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
The Question about Fasting
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
In our lesson for this morning, Jesus is being asked if he and his disciples are religious enough. John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, they are religiously observant. Jesus and his disciples do not, they seem to flaunt this traditional religious discipline. As a result, some people begin to question their commitment and sincerity. In his response, Jesus wants the people to know that he is doing something new that requires a new way of being in the world. In this new way, personal piety and religious observance are not enough. Following him means being committed to building the Kingdom of God, it involves putting faith into action, it is work that goes beyond ritualistic expressions of personal piety. This new way of being, this new wine, is the way of love that Jesus shows us through his life and his death.
I am old enough to remember some of the liturgical wars that took place in the church years ago. We argued about Prayer Books, passing the peace, and whether the altar should be against the wall or pulled out so that the priest can get behind it. Liturgical renewal is important, but some parishes literally split over these issues, and it felt to me like we were spending far too much time arguing over how to set the dinner table, so to speak, and much too little time actually inviting people to the table and feeding them.
Our religious disciplines during Lent, like taking time for prayer and reading scripture, are important, they help us to focus on our faith. But, we must never forget that in the long run they matter little if they do not spur us to action in the world. Our faith is meant to be lived, to be expressed in acts of love that mirror Christ’s sacrificial way of living. As Bishop Curry says in his book, The Way of Love, “My job is to plant seeds of love, and to keep on planting, even—or especially—when bad weather comes. It’s folly to think I can know the grand plan, how my small action fits into the larger whole. All I can do is check myself, again and again: Do my actions look like love? If they are truly loving, then they are part of the grand movement of love in the world, which is the movement of God in the world.”
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.