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It was inappropriate for groomsmen to fast until after a wedding banquet had ended. Weddings lasted seven days, and participants or ‘guests of the bridegroom’ means either the groomsmen (compare Jn 3:29) or the guests-were expected to participate joyfully. Sages even interrupted their schools to hail passing bridal processions (ARN 4A).
New cloth had not yet shrunk, and when it began to shrink after being patched onto a garment that had finished its shrinking, the patch would tear loose from the garment, making the tear worse (Mt 9:16). In the same way, old wineskins had been stretched to the limit as wine fermented and expanded in them. Because old wineskins had already been stretched to the limit, if they were filled with new wine it would ultimately burst them when it expanded. Traditional rituals must never become a straitjacket that hinder us from celebrating sinners’ embrace of the good news of God’s kingdom.
The object of fasting is to become closer to God through prayer and the denial of a very worldly pleasure: that of eating. Jesus’ answer to the disciples of John makes clear that there is no need for fasting as long as He is with them because He, Jesus, is God and, therefore, the unity with God that is sought through fasting is already achieved through Christ’s presence.
Jesus’ use of the word “mourning” in the passage is important because it both illustrates the feeling of great loss or emptiness that fasting attempts to remedy, and also prophecies the loss of Jesus in his worldly form upon His death and later Ascension. Jesus also refers to himself as the “bridegroom”, an image important to the expression of the relationship between Christ and the Church, especially in the letters of Paul.
Prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, tells us which is the fasting God appreciates: “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear, then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard” (Is 58:7-8). God likes and expects from us whatever is taking us towards a true love for all our brothers.
St. John Paul II, under the motto “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving” (Acts 20:35); helps us to discover the very same charitable dimension of our fasting, which, from the bottom of our heart, allows us to prepare for Easter Time, in an effort to identify ourselves, more and more, with Christ’s love which took him to die in the Cross for us. “What every Christian ought to do all the time, he ought to do it now more carefully and more devotedly” (Saint Leo the Great, pope).