In Lent 23 by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:16-18

Jesus seems to assume that fasting is a usual practice among his listeners. In fact, some scholars say that giving, prayer, and fasting were the pillars of Hebrew piety. But Jesus does not say that fasting is required of his disciples. His instruction to the crowd was, instead, when you choose to fast or give alms or pray, do not do it in a way as to call attention to yourself or to garner praise for your piety.

Today, fasting is considered to be a desired and valuable discipline of the Christian life. However, it must be pointed out that fasting is not a common Christian practice today. We might even ask what value fasting has in following Jesus. Is there any value? Here are some possible ideas:

  • Fasting is a way to clear the decks, in a manner of speaking. In this case, one would fast in order to devote time to reading the Bible or praying.
  • Fasting is a way to ask for God’s intervention in a certain matter urgently.
  • Fasting is a way to learn how to say no to one’s cravings. Many consider this to be unAmerican, e.g. to deny oneself of daily needs and desires.

Given the western way of indulgence, fasting of some sort is a good way to focus attention and decrease the volume of human appetite. Fasting, in this case, could be turning off the computer for a day or two or a week. Fasting could be turning off the television for a period of time, the longer the better. Fasting could be getting up early in the morning to give time to prayer and meditation.

It could be argued that some form of fasting ought to be a regular part of the Christian’s practice. But we’re not used to saying “no” to ourselves. Maybe it’s time to get on with that. And don’t tell anybody what you’re doing.

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