Re-defining Fasting . . . Righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees

We don’t like to fast. Even if it is for health reasons. Those who find the breadth of spiritual disciplines in the Scriptures tend to move right past denying ourselves a good meal, or a meal at all. Jesus responded to those who questioned why his disciples did not fast by saying there would be time for that, and now is not the time.

Reading this week’s texts for Sunday point to a “prophetic” re-defining of fasting. For instance, in Isaiah 58 you get the idea the people of God retort that they have fasted and humbled themselves and wonder why God has not seen it? How is that for humility! Fasting is often for ourselves – even when practiced as a spiritual discipline. We want to be closer to God. We want to hear God more clearly. We want to bring our bodies into submission. Surely there is nothing wrong with these hopes so long as their end is for the benefit of others. If they are strictly for our own “spiritual well-being,” then the prophets words apply today as if he were speaking in our ears.These kinds of “fasts” simply elevate the person to a position of faux spirituality. Quibbling over just how to fast and who is seeing our fast is no reason to fast at all. And, lest we quickly dismiss this is our agenda, we only need to think about the way we are quick to point out how another is or is not practicing the visible expressions of the faith the way they should.

God looks for a much deeper fast, a more humbling fast. That is, a fast where the benefit is another person. “Is not this the fast I choose: to losse the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” When we fast to break the yokes we are under we must view that action as a precursor to the fast God calls for rather than assert this is the “spiritual” fast that sets us on a better personal course. We are not on a godly course at all if others are not in view. And, not just any others, but those who suffer under the weight of systems, structures, habits and activities that possess them and afflict them.

When we venture into the arid places where people find no “water of life,” the prophet suggests our fast after the fashion of God’s designes figuratively makes of us a “watered garden.” Healing then comes in Jesus’ name.

If we consider the Matthew 5 passage we quickly see the Scribes and Pharisees whose intent was to ensure the external expressions of religious practice without the benefit that should come the way of those in need. So, they fasted in a way that drew attention to their practice. They gave their gifts to the poor with great fanfare. This was no “fast” at all, except it was a fast way to demonstrate how to “miss the point” of spiritual formation. It is not that we are the end but that as salt and light bring their influence to bear for the good of the recipient we too who follow Jesus live out the way of Jesus not for our own “blessing,” future or otherwise, but to fulfill as Jesus did the meaning of the law in loving God and neighbor as the aim of human beings.

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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