Back to the Sermon on the Mount this morning, and a discussion by Jesus on a topic which I have no personal experience or knowledge of – fasting.
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. Here come the hypocrites again! Those overly religious types who weren’t really seeking or finding God in their hearts, but were all about the appearances of being pious to others and accruing to themselves the respect and honor that might bring themselves. Fasting was a regular and important part of life for the devout Jew. It is a biblical practice which (so I’m told) helps to form a believer in his/her interactive life with God. But get hypocrites, those “playing pious”, just like they would sound a trumpet when they gave to the poor to make sure everyone saw their good deed, when they fasted they would put disfiguring marks on their faces to make sure everyone could see they were fasting. And Jesus points out that they get the reward they look for, everyone who sees would know how devout they are.
But when you fast, anoint your 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. Why do the hypocrites need to make sure everyone knows they are fasting? Why do they wish to display their suffering? Maybe it’s because they really are miserable in their suffering, and they have no true relationship with God in Heaven who has the power to sustain them in joy through the fast. Maybe they are just showing everyone the true condition of their own hearts when they fast, because they don’t have access to the manna from heaven that only God can provide. They don’t understand what was meant when Jesus quoted this during his wilderness temptation – “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV.
“Manna” is what Jesus is referencing when he draws upon this passage referring to lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. “Manna” means “whatever it is” or “what is it”. Manna was a form of substance that had never been seen before God gave it to the Israelites in the wilderness, and has never been seen since. It was the bread of heaven, provided not by any natural process but by the action, or “word”, of God to feed his people.
What we don’t realize, or remember, is that God is the God who created all things, and through his word all things were made. Every great discovery made by mankind was created by God and put there for us to discover. Albert Einstein discovered that e=mc^2. (e is energy, m is matter, c is the speed of light.) Where we stand, we can only really access the m (matter) partvof this equation. We can manipulate matter to produce useable energy by certain processes.
But God can access the e(energy) side of the equation. So he can feed 5000 men plus all the women and children accompying them with five loaves and a few fish (or something like that). He can keep the party going by supplying all the energy and fermentation that would normally take months of rain, sunlight, and patience to instantly transform water into 150 gallons of the finest wine (quite a party trick). He can alter the density of the seas and walk on water. Or he can directly provide for the physical needs of the one fasting towards him with faith.
Think back to the woman at the well. When his disciples return from their food finding mission and find Jesus talking to, if all people a Samaritan woman, they don’t have any comment on that situation, but they do know that people coming out to respond to the testimony of this woman and Jesus is going up need his energy. “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:31-34 ESV. This is one of those passages that we always want to explain away or reduce, that we think is really just pretty words and Jesus is really just talking about doing good for God or some kind of obedience.
But look again at what Jesus says here. I have food to eat that you do not know about. Then look at the reaction of his disciples here – “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” They absolutely knew that Jesus was not hungry for what they had gathered. He had gotten his nourishment from somewhere. Jesus was telling his disciples (and us) that they could get physical nourishment from spiritual sources.
The point is, that if you are fasting, don’t go out of your way to make sure everyone knows. Go about your business, live your life, enjoy the day(s). If you are fasting with God in mind, he knows and will sustain you through it. You don’t have to be miserable, you don’t have to appear miserable. He has access to the energy side of Einsteins equation, in ways that we just can’t understand.
“”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 your 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 ESV