“SO, WHAT IF I SUPER SIZE ME?” (Mk 9:14-15): 08 February 2008 (Friday after Ash Wednesday)
In this day and age where every other person is on some kind of diet, the documentary “Super Size Me” comes as a shocker. After watching it, I couldn’t lay eyes on a Big Mac for at least six months (Actually, I’ve long stopped eating at McDonald’s for years!). The film, after all, documents thirty days in the life of filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, when he ate nothing but McDonald’s food three times a day. The result? He gained about 25 pounds and in the process, got liver damage. I guess that’s what you get for feasting on McDonald’s!
In the Gospel today, people virtually accuse our Lord of “super sizing” himself. They are surprised—and even scandalized—to see his brand of feasting especially because they compare him to the much more ascetic John the Baptist. I suppose they expect every prophet and every holy man to be on some kind of perpetual South Beach diet. Saints just aren’t supposed to be known for feasting and celebrating!
I can understand that. After all, that’s our stereotype for saints and martyrs. But I also think that it’s only these people’s official line; it’s only their press release. I suspect that the complaint is coming from somewhere else, something other than how they think Jesus should be behaving.
I think the people around the Lord are dissatisfied with our Lord’s behavior because they resent the fact that he’s enjoying himself. In other words, these Pharisees and scribes, who spend all their lives trying to follow the law, begrudge Jesus his joy and pleasure.
Some of us can easily identify with that. How many times in the past have we caught ourselves feeling that way—resentful of the joy and pleasure of others? Here we are trying our best to discipline ourselves, to make sacrifices, to be good Christians—and there we have all these other people who are actually enjoying their lives!
In today’s reading, I think our Lord is telling us a couple of things: First, there’s a season for fasting, but there’s also a season for feasting. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with being happy. Sometimes we Catholics need to be reminded of that. There’s nothing wrong with joy and pleasure—for as long as our reasons for feasting and the way we feast are good. Even our Lord knows how to enjoy himself.
Secondly, there’s also a reason for fasting just as there is a reason for feasting. Our Lord is inviting us to examine our reasons when we fast. Many people fast in order to get something from God. Fasting becomes a form of bribery. I will not eat steak today, I will not watch TV tonight, I will not smoke for a week—but give me this and give me that.
Fasting is not intended to be a means of bribing God to get what we want, but as a means of discipline and love. We fast in order to train ourselves to overcome our natural allergy to pain, so that if we need to suffer later on for a good and valid reason—to help others, to do good things for others—we can be free to do so.
Our Lord knew how to enjoy himself, to pour himself into the joy of the moment. But when the season came for fasting, for suffering, for taking up the cross—so that we may be saved, he also poured himself completely into it.
You can say many things about our Lord’s critics–the Pharisees and scribes–but we can at least recognize that they play a fair game. They’re hard on themselves, but they’re also hard on others. Compare that to some people who are easy on themselves and easy on others. These people are also fair: They treat others the way they treat themselves. But what about those who are easy on themselves but hard on others? This is probably the worst combination. I think the ideal combination is that we’re hard on ourselves and easy on others.
So my Quick Question for you today is the poll question you find at the top of this entry: “Which type of person do you tend to be and why?
a) Do you tend to be hard on yourself and hard on others?
b) Do you tend to be easy on yourself and easy on others?
c) Do you tend to be easy on yourself but hard on others?
d) Do you tend to be hard on yourself but easy on others?”
If you haven’t done so, this is a good time to take the poll. Don’t worry: The poll won’t say who said what. And if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from “Super Size Me”)