daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, Second Week of the Year, January 15, 2018
1 Samuel 15:16-23, Psalm 49, Mark 2:18-22

Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.


"Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him [Jesus], ‘Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?' And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 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 in that day'" (Mark 2:18-20).

The time of Jesus' earthly ministry is a unique time in the history of the world and in the history of salvation. It is like a wedding feast, when everyone rejoices with the bride and the groom. Therefore it is a time of eating, not of fasting. But this three-year period is a very short time, and when it is over, Jesus' disciples will fast as do the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees.

What is the reason for religious fasting? It is to focus and concentrate our life on the Lord as the center and joy of our life, as our only real joy in life that we seek after. But if we also have many other unnecessary worldly joys in our life, our joy in God gets drowned out. It is like trying to listen to a beautiful flute amid all kinds of background noise and rock music. It gets drowned out and we can't hear, appreciate, and enjoy it properly. We have to get rid of all the other racket in order to properly hear and enjoy it.

That is why we fast or eat simple, plain, unadorned, natural, healthy food that our body needs to be healthy and to function properly. In this way our appreciation and enjoyment of God is not drowned out by riotous and worldly living and banqueting, and so we can better perceive and enjoy the pure and subtle love of God in our heart. Jesus warned us of the background racket that drowns out the love of God in our hearts when he said, "But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare" (Luke 21:34).

But what do I mean by fasting? Fasting can take many forms. The form that I prefer and have found the most helpful to me is to eat simply, avoiding seasoning, delicacies, things made of white flour, sugar or spices, things like ice-cream, cake, pie, and cookies, and things that are fried, as well as meat. All good food is naturally pleasurable when you are hungry, but that is a natural pleasure put there by God to make us eat in order to live. But for me fasting is giving up, for the love of God, unnecessary additions to the food to enhance its pleasure, such as sugar, seasoning, sauces, dressing, gravy, etc. So just eating steamed vegetables without seasoning or butter would be a good example of a simple dish that incorporates the notion and benefit of fasting. For dessert, you can eat a piece of fresh fruit.

This kind of simple and austere eating should be just one part of a whole way of life lived only for the Lord and for the love of our neighbor (Jesus' two greatest commandments). Our whole way of living should then be in harmony with our simple way of eating. It should all be a simple, God-centered life, not a worldly life with worldly entertainments, luxurious vacations, and long, frequent, and extended visits to family and friends.

We should serve only one master, the Lord. If we are also trying to serve another master, such as a life of worldly pleasure and recreation, we will fail to serve God as he wants us to serve him. A life of worldly activities, visits, pleasure trips, fine dining, secular movies, etc. drowns out the subtle experience of the love of God in our heart. So all of our life should be of one piece. It should all be plain and simple, unified around serving one master only, the Lord. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).

As justified Christians, we have died to our "old man," to our old worldly way of living, because, through our faith in Christ, his death has reconciled us with God by paying our debt of punishment that we had with God for our sins. We are now made righteous and are henceforth to live no longer for our personal worldly and fleshly pleasures, but for Christ with all our heart and soul, as St. Paul says:

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Because of the fact that God has declared us ungodly sinners righteous by our faith in Christ's atoning death for our sins, we are now "new men" and should live a new life in which Christ is our center and focus. Our life should therefore be single-mindedly and single-heartedly focused on Christ in everything we do - in our eating, working, and in how we spend our free time. Our life should be of one piece, not self-contradictory. We should live no longer for ourselves but for Christ who died and was raised for us.

This, of course, is the exact opposite of a worldly life that has no center of unity other than my own personal worldly and fleshly pleasures, which is a life unworthy of a human being. So we should be dead to the world and its unworthy lifestyle. We should be crucified to the world, and the world to us, as St. Paul says, "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). St. John says the same, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). St. James says this too, "Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

We are not to be a friend of the world in the sense of seeking its worldly pleasures that divide our heart away from a pure love of God with an undivided heart.

We are rather to love the world in the sense of desiring to save it by preaching Christ to it, by calling it to repentance and faith in Christ for its justification, forgiveness, and salvation. We must love the world the way God loves it, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Christ came into the world not to seek its pleasures, not to live a worldly lifestyle, but to give his life for us so that those who repent and believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.

We are not to siphon off our love for the Lord in other worthless directions. A seed planted amid thorns will not flourish, because the thorns will eat up and siphon off from it all the nutrients in the soil that the seed needs to grow and bring forth good fruit. In the same way if we are planted amid worldly pleasures, our attention and concentration will also be siphoned off here and there, and we will lose our focus and energy. Jesus compares us to a good seed and warns us not to let the thorns, which are the pleasures of life, choke us: "And for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature" (Luke 8:14). Let us not be like the seeds that wither away, pulled this way and that by fine dining, banqueting, and worldly living.

To be a justified Christian, devoted completely to Christ, is a great treasure, but to get this treasure we have to renounce everything else. We have to renounce worldly eating and worldly living, just as the man who discovered the buried treasure had to renounce everything else in order to get the treasure: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; and then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44). Simple eating (fasting) is part of this renunciation. It is the renunciation of worldly eating.

In this new unified life of ours, we are to have only one treasure, Christ. We are to renounce all other worldly treasures, as Jesus told us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

If worldly eating is also our treasure, it will impede our progress and spiritual growth. It will divide our heart away from the dedicated Christ-centered way that God wants us to live.

We should not take the broad, easy, worldly way, but the straight and narrow path of life. The easy way of the world, which most people take, leads to destruction. The straight, narrow, and hard way leads to eternal life, but only a few choose this way. This is the way you should choose.

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).


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