To the original hearers of Jesus' teaching the question was not concerning whether to fast or not, but rather the motivation behind fasting. Throughout the Old Testament, various fasts were commonly practiced and the law required one fast a year, on the Day of Atonement. Fasting varies from giving up food and water, to giving up a meal. Throughout Scripture, fasting often occurs when people reflect on how much they need God instead of relying on other things. Jesus understands that His disciples will fast when He says, "When you fast" (16). Therefore, as we reflect on these three verses in Matthew 6 our Lord Jesus highlights for us a proper perspective concerning the spiritual discipline of fasting. In the larger context of Matthew 6, we have Jesus outlining true and acceptable worship. What is the reason behind doing what we do? Ultimately, it comes down to either pleasing others or giving God the glory and honor that is due unto Him.
In the first century many people practiced fasting, however, as the passage reveals, many sought the attention and reward from those around them by looking gloomy and disfiguring their faces (16). They were literally going out of their way to ensure that people knew what they were doing. Jesus in these couple of short verses draws His disciples back to the true meaning of fasting found in the Old Testament as opposed to the meaning imposed on it by the religious leaders. Jesus informs the people that it is important to maintain their outward appearance so that only the Father knows what they are doing.
The teaching of Jesus repeatedly gets to the heart of the matter, the attitude and incentive behind a person's actions. What is our motivation for observing Lent or reading this resource? As you venture through your day and week ahead let us continue to focus our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever we do in word or in deed may it be for Him alone!
Rainy River, ON