“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint our head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
This passage speaking of fasting is taken from Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount. I would venture to say that it is probably not a section of that sermon that is widely practiced today.
Jesus is dealing with hypocritical behavior while fasting. Often in acts of humility while fasting people would go around in sackcloth and ashes as signs of lamentation. Either sorrowful for their own sin or for the circumstance they were in. Now here in Jesus’ days it was like a public status symbol. Look at me, I’m fasting. Perhaps wanting to appear more holy than one really is. Jesus gives a call to not make a scene while fasting. Don’t go out of your way to let everyone know what you are doing. Fast, but keep it between yourself and the Father. And the Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Another note about this section of the sermon on the mount is that Jesus presumes that fasting will take place. Two times he states, ‘When you fast…’ Not if you choose to fast, but when you fast. Yet we know it is not practiced regularly by many believers today.
Jesus is speaking here of private fasting. As we are looking toward August 21stand the call for a day of prayer and fasting, we are looking at a public call and even a public assembly called by our session for that evening. A public call in times of calamity is rare, not an everyday occurrence. And yes, this call is not a mandatory thing, we are encouraging people to participate as they are able.
On Sunday I will be preaching a message from Joel 2 on fasting to help us better understand fasting and this call for a day of prayer and fasting. And hopefully that will be a help to you as you prepare for this day. In simple terms fasting is going without food. In other words, this is not a call to abstain from media or sweets or some habit but an abstention from food. That being said, I have already had one question and I can anticipate others. The idea of encouraging you at your discretion to participate as you are able is not a blanket, ‘you must participate in this manner.’ I understand health issues. Or work issues. As you are able.
In a brief weekly thought I cannot cover all facets of participation and my desire is not to give you detailed instructions. I encourage you to consider the importance of this day and to participate as you are able. Let us call upon the name of our Lord together.