Last night I really wanted a cheeseburger. I almost gave in, and if not for a sizable inconvenience, I probably would have went out and bought one.
Desire. One of the main themes of the first preparatory Sunday in our tradition, the Sunday of Zacchaeus, is desire. Zacchaeus has a strong desire to see Jesus, but can’t because he’s short and the crowd is great. Since his desire is strong, he overcomes the obstacles between him and his goal by climbing a sycamore fig tree. On that Sunday we are taught to see the Great Fast as our sycamore tree, with the ascetic disciplines and struggles helping us to overcome our sin and separation from Christ, if we have the desire.
This is of course true, but I think the fast itself also teaches us to desire, and points out to us the misplacement of our desires in a very striking and human way: our stomachs.
Even in our vernacular, hunger is used to describe a strong desire. The Church, in her two millennia of accumulated wisdom, understands this facet of our humanity and teaches us to use it to our spiritual benefit.
Our Lord said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). As previously mentioned, we undergo this fasting season in order to re-orient our lives on the risen Christ. That is the goal and the reason. Abstaining from food, increasing prayer, scripture, and almsgiving/good works are the exercises. Through the Grace of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to cooperate with Him, these exercises produce the “fruit” that helps us to accomplish that goal. Learning to desire Christ, or at least becoming aware of the things we seek before the Kingdom of Heaven, is one such fruit.
When I reflected on last night this morning, I realized that if only I desired Christ even as much as I desired that cheeseburger, I would be getting somewhere.
Let us, by abstaining from earthly food, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
May the hunger in our bellies focus our attention on Christ, that we may desire Him enough to climb our own sycamore trees; and may Christ forgive us our sins and have mercy on us.