Mathew 6 – Fasting or Feasting?

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Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

Feasting and Fasting, we can consider them as the two ends of the spectrum, they are opposites.   George Herbert wrote a poem called Lent, and the opening line says:

‘Welcome dear feast of Lent’

Not welcome dear fast of lent. Welcome dear feast of lent.  What this line from George Herbert is getting at is that although lent might be a time for fasting for the body, it is also a time of feasting for the soul. What is the purpose of fasting? What is our motivation behind it?

In Judaism at the time of Jesus Mondays and Thursdays were days where you would fast.  These were also market days, and into the towns and especially into Jerusalem, crowded the people from the countryside; the result being that those who were fasting would on those days have a bigger audience to see and admire their piety.  there were many who took deliberate steps to ensure others could not miss the fact that they were fasting. they walked through the streets with hair deliberately unkempt and dishevelled, with clothes deliberately disarrayed. they even went to the length of whitening their faces to accentuate their paleness.  this was no act of humility; it was a deliberate act of spiritual pride.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Jesus condemns these hypocrites and says they have already received all the reward they will get.  Indeed many Rabbis would have condemned them to. There is a great Rabbinic saying one of my favourites which says:  

‘A person will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every good thing which they might have enjoyed, and did not’.

We should not fast just for the sake of fasting, or as a display of our piety to others.

Jesus does not command us to fast neither does he tell say ‘if you fast’.  Jesus says ‘when you fast’. there is an expectation in His words that we will want to fast.  He tells us to go and wash our faces and anoint our heads with oil so that people don’t know we are fasting.  

It is all about priorities, and the central priority is God Himself.  He is our priority, but in our busy lives they can be lots of distractions, and we have other things that become priorities.  Fasting from some of these distractions can help us to put God back at the top of our list.

Fasting then is a private thing between us and God.  Fasting is a feast for the soul, a chance to control our appetite for the world, to stop and focus on God.  To move closer to the heart of God.

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