A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 9:14-15:
14 The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Fasting is a spiritual exercise wherein we stop eating for a period of time. On the other hand, abstinence is the refusal of certain activities like eating meat or sexual activities. Both are done for different purposes which are mostly religious or health. Fasting has biblical basis. People in the Old and New Testament practiced it and Jesus himself taught it.
In the gospel reading above, the Pharisees questioned Jesus why His disciples do not fast. Jesus answered them by saying fasting is not practice in a wedding. Jesus’ presence is like a wedding feast where there is joy, abundance of food and merriment. He is saying that while His disciples were with Him, there is no reason to fast.
So what are the reasons for fasting? Here are they:
1. Fasting helps us to be cleansed spiritually and thus, we come closer to God. It helps us focus on Him and therefore, we can hear from Him. In the Old Testament, only after fasting for forty days did Moses receive the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:28).
2. Fasting helps us to be victorious. The Israelites fasted before they went to battle and they won. (2 Chronicles 20:2-3). Jesus fasted for forty days and He was victorious over temptation (Matthew 4:1-11).
3. Fasting allow us to get guidance from the Lord. This is very important during times of decision-making. After fasting, Daniel received the instruction of God (Daniel 9:21-22).
4. Fasting strengthen our faith. The body may become physically weak but we become spiritually strong.
5. Fasting is an exercise of humility. We deny ourselves of our cravings in order to find our strength in God.
6. Although we can never influence God to answer our prayers, fasting can prepare us to receive His grace and blessings.
More than anything else, fasting is born out of our love for God. We want to glorify Him by lowering ourselves. Coupled with prayer and reading of scripture, it can also be a tool for purification.