Matthew 9:15-38: Fighting the Passions of the Flesh Through Fasting
Now our Lord is going to enunciate a great principle and reveal the fact that the dispensation is going to be changed.
And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast [Matthew 9:15].
For believers today fasting has real value, As far as scripture is concern we have been given no commandment to fast. But the Church by the authority that God has given Her has promoted fasting and has given us special days of fasting.
Listen to what the Catechism of the council of Trent has to say about fasting:
"Fasting is most intimately connected with prayer. For the mind of one who is filled with food and drink is so borne down as not to be able to raise itself to the contemplation of God, or even to understand what prayer means.” It goes on to say, “The wrath of God we appease by pious prayer;...the stains of our own lives we wash away by fasting.”
Else where in the Catechism its says that the body is to be mortified and the sensual appetites to be repressed by, among other things, fasting.
St. Basil the Great says this about fasting: “Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.”
From her earliest days, the Church has taught the need for self denial in the life of every Christian. Self denial is not just for monks and priests, but for but for all believers as well.
Understand that self-denials ultimate goal is self control. And this self denial most often takes the form of fasting.
Self denial is necessary for everyone because of our passions— our intense fleshly desires, which are referred to in the scriptures as concupiscence. Experience teaches us that we are often lead about by these desires in a way we can barely control. St. Paul tells us that “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.” (Galatians 5:17) In other words our flesh wars against the spirit. This war is so intense that our passions often lead us to do things we don’t want to do, and we find ourselves saying with St. Paul, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. “For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15)
Keep in mind that the passions of our flesh are not necessarily wrong, but because of our fallen nature, they are out of control and they want to dominate us. Left unchecked, our passions will lead us to soul destroying behavior like gluttony, hatred, disorderly sinful sexual acts, or addictions of all kinds. Eventually, their dominion will lead us to hell. As St. Paul says, “These passions of sin…bring forth fruit unto death.” (Romans 7:5)
Faced with the reality of the passions, it can be easy to become discouraged and think we can never overcome them. We cry, “What a miserable person I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story, and we are not left as helpless slaves to concupiscence. “For the law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2)
Through the grace of God, and by walking in the new life purchased for us by Jesus Christ, we can overcome and subdue our passions. We can live as children of God, free from the law of sin that leads to death.
So how do we find this freedom practically speaking? Again, St. Paul explains: “For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.” (Romans 8:13)
“And they that are Christ's, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.” (Galatians 5:24)
“But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (I Corinthians 9:27)
In other words, we find freedom from the passions by mortifying them, putting them to death, through the practice of grace-empowered asceticism—specifically, fasting. Fasting helps us tame the wild stallion of our flesh and bring it under the bridle of self-control.
Fasting is not simply a matter of will power. Grace is absolutely necessary. While fasting energies prayer, prayer energizes fasting. Both are weak without the other.
As you fast to conquer your passions, pray constantly for the grace of God to flood your soul, beg for the virtues in which you need to mature, and ask for strength in the spiritual warfare.
With any kind of self-discipline, penance, or fasting comes a temptation to pride. We face the danger of believing that we are superior to others because we fast, or thinking that fasting is an end in itself. But fasting itself is never the goal, nor does it make us perfect or more spiritual than others. Rather, fasting is an aid, a training tool in our ascent toward perfection, which is found in a pure, self-giving love of God and neighbor.
“Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting,” says St. Jerome, “lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.”
If we neglect fasting, our spiritual life will always be mediocre. We will be weak in the combat against our passions, we will easily succumb to temptation, and we will never truly overcome our inherent selfishness and self-indulgence.
As Christians, our desire should be to strengthen ourselves and be the best that we can be. We should train ourselves to be strong in the spiritual warfare, so we can resist the temptations of the evil one. There is no better way to begin this spiritual training than through the practice of fasting.
Now the Lord explains the change of dispensations from the Old Testament of law to the New Testament of grace. He says:
And nobody putteth a piece of raw cloth unto an old garment. For it taketh away the fullness thereof from the garment, and there is made a greater rent. Neither do they put new wine into old bottles. Otherwise the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish. But new wine they put into new bottles: and both are preserved. [Matthew 9:16-17].
Our Lord is saying this: The old covenant, the old dispensation of law, was ending, and He had not come to project it or to continue under that dispensation. Actually, He had come to provide a new garment. Concerning this new garment Chrysologus says this, “the fabric of the old law was worn away by Judaic zealousness, corrupted by the senses, split apart by factions and worn out by impure actions. The shrunk cloth of the gospel he calls a garment. But make note of the cloth, not simply the tear but the beginning of the weave. First of all, the fabric of Christ's royal garment was woven out of wool that came from a lamb, 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world' The royal vestment was a woven vestment, which the blood of His passion tinged with purple splendor”. That new garment was Jesus Himself!
The "bottles" were the wineskins of that day. They were fashioned of animal skin. You can see that when new wine would be put into a new wineskin, it would expand. But an old wineskin had reached the place of maximum expansion; when it was filled with new wine, it would naturally burst open and the wine would be lost.
Our Lord is saying this, "I haven't come to sew patches on an old garment. I have come to present a new garment, something which is altogether new." This was very radical. John summed it up in his gospel when he said, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
We come to the eighth and ninth miracles which, in a manner of speaking, are linked together. Both are miracles of healing, and it is a tremendous scene.
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live [Matthew 9:18]
Luke in his gospel tells us that when this ruler first came to Jesus it was to ask Him to heal his daughter: This is what he says about this story: “And behold there came a man whose name was Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at the feet of Jesus, beseeching him that he would come into his house: For he had an only daughter, almost twelve years old, and she was dying." (Luke 8:41-42).
The little girl was sick unto death, and while her father waited to talk with Jesus, a servant came and told him that the little girl had died.
As Jesus and His disciples arose to follow Jairus to his home, a large crowd gathered around Him. And behold a woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. [Matthew 9:20].
You cannot help but notice how striking this passage is. The little girl was twelve years old, and this woman had suffered with this issue of blood for twelve years. Here were twelve years of light going out of this child's life, and twelve years of darkness were coming to an end and light was breaking into this woman's life. Here we cans see the contrast of light and darkness.
In the previous verse note what the woman did. Jesus did not touch her, as He did in many other miracles, but SHE touched Him. It was not the method, however, that brought about her healing; it was her faith.
For she said within herself: If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed. But Jesus turning and seeing her, said: Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. [Matthew 9:21-22]
Dr. Luke gives us much more detail about this miracle, recording our Lord's reaction to this woman's touch and her response. Jesus then moves from this woman and continues toward the house of Jairus.
And when Jesus was come into the house of the ruler, and saw the minstrels and the multitude making a rout, He said: Give place, for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. [Matthew 9:23-24]
When Jesus arrived at the home, people were already mourning for the child. He told them the little girl was only sleeping and not dead, and they laughed at Him. None in the house believed Jesus could raise the dead, but He kept moving toward the child.
And when the multitude was put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand. And the maid arose. [Matthew9:25]
This is the first instance of raising the dead that we have in the Gospels. Three notable incidents of raising the dead are recorded. Again, Luke goes into more detail than Matthew. Luke adds that He spoke to the little girl and said, "maid arise!" The method of Jesus in raising the dead was always the same. He spoke to the person directly.
After healing the woman with the issue of blood and raising Jairus' daughter from the dead, the fame of Jesus spread.
The tenth miracle concerns two blind men who followed the Lord Jesus. "And as Jesus passed from thence, there followed him two blind men crying out and saying, Have mercy on us, O Son of David." [Matthew 9:27]
Note that the two blind men addressed Him as the "Son of David." This is significant in this gospel which presents Him as King.
And when he was come to the house, the blind men came to him. And Jesus saith to them, Do you believe, that I can do this unto you? They say to him, Yea, Lord. Then he touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith, be it done unto you. And their eyes were opened, and Jesus strictly charged them, saying, See that no man know this. [Matthew 9:28-30]
his is another remarkable case where the Lord charges these men not to tell anyone about what happened to them. He said the same thing to the leper. There are several reasons for the Lord to ask this favor, but one is made clear in this passage. The publication of His miracles caused the crowds to press in upon Him and actually hindered Him at His work.
These two men whose sight was restored just couldn't contain their joy. They ''spread abroad his fame in all that country" [Matthew 9:31]
We now come to the eleventh miracle. Another demon-possessed man is healed. This is the third incident of demon possession recorded in chapters 8-9 of Matthew.
And when they were gone out, behold they brought him a dumb man, possessed with a devil. And after the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke, and the multitudes wondered, saying, Never was the like seen in Israel. [Matthew 9:32-33]
Notice the reaction of the Pharisees. "But the Pharisees said, By the prince of devils he casteth out devils." [Matthew 9:34]
They did not deny that He had caused the dumb to speak and the blind to see and the crippled to walk. What they accused Him of was that He did these things by the power of Satan.
And Jesus went about all the cities, and towns, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease, and every infirmity. [Matthew 9:35]
"The gospel of the kingdom" is not the gospel of the grace of God. Chrysostom calls it “the gospel of the reign of God.” This does not mean to infer that there are two gospels. There is only one gospel, but there are many facets of it.
The gospel of the kingdom was the announcement that the kingdom of the heavens was at hand.
It meant to get ready for the King. It required repentance and fruit worthy of repentance from those that would accept and follow the King who was then going to the cross.
''and healing every disease, and every infirmity." We see again and again that Matthew inserts this information that there were thousands of folk who were healed in that day. This is the reason the enemy never questioned the fact that He performed miracles-it was too obvious.
Let me say again that in our day a great many people get excited about the claim of certain ones to have a gift of healing. The point is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Physician, and I believe...I know...that He can heal today as well as yesterday. I have great confidence in Him. We should seek the best medical help available to us, but we need to recognize that doctors are very limited. However, the Lord Jesus is not limited. We can be confident that He will deal with us according to His perfect will, and we need to give Him the credit for whatever happens.
And seeing the multitudes, he had compassion on them: because they were distressed, and lying like sheep that have no shepherd. [Matthew 9:36]
God's ideal kings and rulers have been shepherds. Both Moses and David were shepherds before they led God's people. When we pray for the Lord to thrust forth Priest into His harvest, pray that He will give them the heart of a shepherd. But not only do we want to pray for more Priest with a shepherds heart, but we need to pray for the priest that we already have. Both good and bad. To many priest are out there that are not acting as shepherds taking care of their flock. How do I know this? Because I see the multitudes of Catholics out there that are distressed and lying like sheep that have no shepherd. We need more priest to see them and just like Christ find compassion for them. By the way... Pray that the Lord will also give you a heart of compassion for the lost as well.
Then he saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest. [Matthew 9:37-38]
Having said this to His disciples, He now sends them forth.
My friend, when you pray for something, it is always well to be willing to do it yourself.
When our Lord asked the disciples to pray for laborers, He sent into the harvest these very men whom He asked to pray about it. This is very interesting. An old bishop years ago said, "When a man prays for a corn crop, the Lord expects him to say 'Amen' with a hoe." I have always believed that you should not pray about anything unless you are also willing to do it yourself.