Expecting favours from God?


"Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?" (Is 58v3)
The people of Judah fasted so that God would hear their public petitions - possibly so that there might be rain for their crops. They are concerned by the perceived silence of God. Had they committed some sin without knowing it? Or did God like to humiliate people who asked for favours? And so the people lie in sackcloth and ashes. But God pointed out through His prophet, that there was an inconsistency - why should He answer their prayers when at the same time their business practices were unjust?
This situation of the people of Judah is a warning for us too. It is the condition when we are content with a certain level of religious observance. We can think that by a certain level of observance we can expect certain favours from God: for things to go our way, and for some sufferings to be avoided. We say to ourselves, "I have observed what is required of me, I deserve a reward." But God may well be silent, and suffering and adversity may visit us.
The Lord is clear that He is concerned not just with those who observe the precepts of religion; He is concerned with all people. There is a profound inconsistency in practicing religious precepts and also practicing unjust labour laws, of oppressing our employees or perpetuating any injustice we have some control over.
God does not want disciples who merely observe certain religious precepts and the rest of their lives be inconsistent with their profession of faith. When the disciples of John complained that Jesus' disciples were not fasting (Mt 9:14-15), Jesus challenged them to re-think why they were fasting.
To be grumpy and complaining about our fasting is to misunderstand its purpose. Fasting is an expression of inner conversion. We are bringing our bodily appetites into good order and under our control so that we can turn to Christ our Saviour, the Bridegroom, more completely.
The season of Lent, the season of penitence, the season of inner conversion, is not therefore a gloomy season of the Church's year. Yes it is a season of restraint and sobriety, but in order that we can focus more deeply on the things that truly matter : our relationship with Jesus Christ who by His grace draws us into the divine life of perfect love. And if our relationship with Christ is on the right footing, so will our relationships be with our neighbour.
Surely that is something to be joyful about and not grumpy?
Fr Ian

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