The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.”
Today, we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a great American. But first and foremost, he was a great Christian. He followed the Lord and preached the Gospel truth. He spoke at a time when few wanted to hear him. He spoke in a way that few speak today. In nearly all his speeches he mixed religion with politics by quoting sacred scripture and demanding civil rights for all.
I wonder how many people told him that he should stop doing that. I’m glad he ignored them. I’m glad he saw through their shallow argument.
Today, the first African-American President of the United States is being inaugurated for a second-term. He would not be there if it were not for the very public and personal sacrifices and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. The President’s inauguration falls not by coincidence but by divine providence on the reverend’s birthday. As Fulton Sheen once said, “It appears as though ‘coincidences’ occur more for those who pray”.
What makes sacrifice so unthinkable and so unbearable? The pain that it causes! What makes sacrifice so thinkable and bearable? When the pain is connected to a worthy cause!
Why do so many Christians so often stand up and stand out? What is it about them that makes them so unrelenting even in the face of threats, bodily harm, ridicule, hatred and lies? What takes hold of them, for they are so often and so routinely led to the slaughter with a smile on their face? Simply put and remarkably said: they know they are not alone. Their lives are incorporated into Jesus Christ.
Like nearly every authentic Christian, Rev. Martin Luther King was ahead of his time by being a follower of Christ. Like the Lord, He was a pain in the neck to his neighbors. He was an annoyance to his enemies. He was the butt of all jokes and the head of all scorn. But to his own, his faithful few, he was the cause of constant prayers and the source of so many hopes and blessings. I can’t even begin to imagine all the death threats he received. I can’t even imagine for a moment all the hate mail he read. So, how did he do it? How did he continue? Why did his followers continue to follow? Because their pain was connected to a worthy cause; because their lives were connected to a most worthy person; because their eyes of faith were constantly gazing upon the hidden Lord!
Why did the Lord’s disciples not fast? Because their eyes, their ears, their lips and their hearts were feasting every day on the Lord. They lived in the presence of the Holy One. It’s not that they didn’t suffer. It’s not that they didn’t sacrifice! It’s that all their sufferings, all their sacrifices, all their fears and tears were entirely bearable because they were in the presence of Almighty God. It isn’t that they were immune to pain and felt no hunger and had no fears. No! It’s that they could bear all things, endure all things, and hope all things because they were in the presence of true and non-negotiating Love.
How could anyone fast or look away from the face of Love??? How could anyone avoid the sun on a clear day? How does one not drink from a stream of sweet water?
By the grace of God there would be no fasting! Not yet, at least.
Yes, the day would come when the Lord would be taken away from them, and then, only then, would they begin to fast and mourn, not out of despair, but out of respect: Mission accomplished.
The Son that once shined so bright before their very eyes would no longer be visible to their naked eye. There would be no more “son” bathing. There would be no more abundant wells of miracles and refreshing sweet water. The followers would now have to pick themselves up where they last stood and learn how to dig, and dig deeper than ever before, to find their source of life, the spring of life, the gift of grace, the empty tomb, the risen Lord.
They would have to learn to dig with faith.