“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
I wanted to make some comments about these verses before you read the rest. I find it interesting that the writer of Matthew seems to believe that these scrunched-up-faced suffers have already received their reward for fasting. They have received attention and perhaps a pious (meaning puffed up religious feeling that is not exactly complimentary) reputation, but nothing that really nourishes the soul and spirit. Can’t you just see them stumbling around clutching their bellies looking peaked, deprived and malnourished, yet in rich clothing and still possessing a substantial belly?! They are not fooling anyone!
“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men 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.” (Reference: Matthew 6:16-18 )
I read some place years ago that if you are feeling unwell but have to be up and around to do things, the best thing to do is to wash carefully, dress well, and take care in your grooming. These verses seem to echo just that – do not look like you are avoiding food, but look well nourished and in good condition.
Now one would hope, beloved, that your fasting does not truly endanger your health. I do not think the Divine wants us to do injury to ourselves. The purpose of fasting can be seen on a spectrum, from skipping a meal in order to diet, to forgoing a meal in order to meditate or worship, to saving money to give to those more needy, to observing religious rituals.
Yesterday we read in Isaiah about fasting that results in changes and better conditions for those victimized by society and circumstances. Here fasting is an action taken literally – not eating. And I do have to wonder, beloved, what reward there might be for not eating. I have never (at least I do not remember) fasted as a spiritual discipline. But the fasting from yesterday’s scripture passage is something I have done often.
The Historic Anabaptists, as we read yesterday, considered fasting a spiritual discipline. In his Apologia (1527) Balthasar Hubmaier wrote, “Although to the Christian all days are fast days, in the sense that he should use food and drink with seemliness and thanksgiving, nevertheless, for the chastisement of the body, also in order to be better fitted to pray on some days, one may himself choose and set aside a particular day.” This is also the perspective held by many modern Anabaptists/Mennonites. Hubmaier writes further, “In brief, I think highly of fasting and of self-denial if one does it voluntarily with regard to food and drink so that his evil and worthless flesh does not grow too wicked and thus, like the uncontrolled oxen, run without discipline and throw the ark of God’s commandments into the mud, 2 Sam. 6. And if I were to give advice in these dangerous times, I would advise, and also do it myself, that one should fast often and hold general assemblies in prayer, that God may graciously turn his anger and wrath away from us and aid us to come again to peace in soul and body . . . in good hope and confidence in God that it would soon get better.” You can sense the perspective of body-as-evil and mind/spirit-as-good in his writings. We know now that mind and body are linked and one is no more good or evil as the other. In fact it is the mind/body connection that makes going without food a trial and tribulation.
May you, beloved, refrain from the things that are not wise and healthy, and follow God’s advice and wisdom for keeping mind and body in harmony with the Divine. Selah!