Fasting and Greed

Being Thought Greedy

None of us likes to be thought greedy, so we make a 1,001 excuses for any unbecoming conduct we’re inclined to blush for, ranging from genuine need (‘I was starving’) to being misunderstood (‘I was just tidying things up’). The photo of the little boy with his head in a cake makes us smile, not recoil. It is how we like to think of our own weaknesses — endearing foibles rather than failings. Alas, it won’t wash. Greed isn’t just about food and drink or overindulgence in material things. We can be greedy for attention, comfort, celebrity status (by association, if nothing else), all kinds of things. We can be greedy for life itself at the expense of others.

Physical Fasting

I certainly believe in the value of actual, physical fasting from food and drink and I am grateful that, after a lifetime in the monastery, I can draw on the accumulated wisdom of generations of nuns. The monotony of our Lenten diet is part of our fast, but we don’t go in for extravagant gestures like the legendary religious sister (Order/Congregation discreetly veiled here) who decided she would eat nothing but one bowl of porridge every day during Lent and expired at the end of it. Nor do we confuse the physical fast with any other kind of ‘giving up’, e.g abandoning social media for a few weeks or foregoing a favourite pastime. Which brings me back to the subject of greed.

Greed

The antidote to greed isn’t fasting but generosity. Restraining ourselves from x or y can be a useful discipline, but it isn’t what the Lenten fast is about. Fasting, like everything else in Lent, is meant to lead us closer to God. The rumblings of our tummies are incidental. What we aim at is the clear-headedness and simplicity that will free our prayer and deepen our response to God, and experience shows that not being weighed down with too much food and drink is a help in that. Our greed, any tendency to possessiveness, to claim something or, worse still, someone, exclusively for ourselves requires more than a trifling sacrifice of a few morsels of food or drink to put right. It requires a complete change of attitude, and for most of us that is a longer and harder task. Maybe that is what Jesus is hinting at in today’s gospel. When the Bridegroom is gone from us, then we must fast in earnest and give of ourselves as he gave his life on the Cross. Lent is a good time for learning how to do that.

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