Loud Fasting

 “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.” — Jesus (or more specifically, Matthew 6:16-18)

Oh shit……

Angry Jesus

Angry Jesus

Obviously I jest. I was familiar with that verse, and it’s implications before I started this fast. Indeed, some of my closest friends who’s opinions I sought brought this up above everything else (health included). But it’s probably time to address this. I have been talking about this with Fred on the  Beer Break on the Edge.  I just did a phone interview with 1010 here in Toronto, and have another booked tomorrow morning with a news station in BC. Huffington Post carried my story, and my friend Jordan St John is covering it in his column next week in the Sun. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more. God forbid somebody puts me on TV……

“Then no one will notice you are fasting…..”

Clearly I’m doing something wrong, yes?

Okay, here is why I would argue that I’m not. I must admit, I am not a theologian by any standard. I even had to get spell-check to spell theologian for me. I know even less about Judaism (which we will deal with shortly). But here goes:

Jesus was talking to first-century Jews in that verse. This is from the sermon on the mount, which I highly recommend reading. Some beautiful and challenging stuff in there (those meek! Why do they win?).  But he’s talking to a group of people that we would all very comfortably identify, not as Christians (they didn’t exist yet), but as Jews. Okay?

Jews (according to my very brief internet-based research) have 7 big days of fasting in the year. Ta’anit Bechorim, Tzom Tammuz, Tishah B’Av, Tzom Gedaliah, Yom Kippur, Asarah B’Tevet, Ta’anit Esther. There are also fasts for Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, and Samuel. Specific communities of faith might also have dates they observe, either marking a great deliverance, or else the passing of a cherished member of the community. And lastly, there are personal fasts for supplication or mourning.

It is very important to consider, when reading the Bible, who is talking, and who are they talking to. When Jesus spoke to his fellow Jews, he was talking to a group of people who were used to fasting. They would have observed those fasts their whole lives. And this is important: Everybody else in their community would have too.

During Yom Kippur, Mordecai wouldn’t have asked his neighbour Izzy if he was fasting. of course Izzy was. Everybody was. It was bloody Yom Kippur. Everybody was fasting, and knew it. Jesus was telling these people, not to pretend they weren’t fasting (which might have gotten them punished), but to act no differently while they were fasting.

At the time, there was this group of ultra-conservative believers (thankfully I can think of no modern equivalent…….) who really liked drawing attention to themselves (still can’t think of any…….). On fast days, they would appear at the temple ON DEATH’S DOOR, limp, fainting, unable to go on. Think of James Brown doing the Please Please Please bit. Here, let me show you:

Hard not to feel good after that.

So that was the thing. These guys were acting like they were really really suffering, and that made them a lot more holy than the folks who were just, you know, fasting. A bit hungry, surely, but not bad, really. They also prayed loudly and for long periods, again, to show just how much more holier they were. And they gave very obviously (if there had been giant cheques in Jesus’ day, these guys would have bought them by the 100s). And that annoyed Jesus. The point of all these pursuits wasn’t looking better than other people, it was about being obedient to God. Drawing closer to God. Loving God.

So he told them, “when we’re all fasting, don’t act like it’s a big deal. I don’t. It’s not that bad. I spent 40 bloody days in the wilderness with no food, then had the Devil tempt me directly, but whatevs. It’s part of the gig.” (please note, that might not be a perfect translation of the New Testament Greek).

No, he said. When you fast, act like things are okay, because they probably are.

And that’s what I’m doing. Yes, my fast isn’t secret (sort of the opposite). But I’m also being very intentional not to moan about it. Sure, it’s no fun not eating food. There are times when I feel pretty rough. But I would much rather share the good stuff. The neat insights I get, or the things I feel blessed by. I could probably garner all types of sympathy, but I would rather encourage other people to seek blessings in their own fasts. Or just to appreciate the awesome things they have in their lives.

And that is why I feel okay with this very public, very loud fast. And I think Jesus is okay with it too.

One Comment

  1. Jerry, Germany
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant.
    This would be the only reason for me to join a church.
    At least for those 40 days.

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