Today's Lectionary Text
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Reading Matthew 6 has been a fascinating experience especially as I learned in depth the meaning and power of fasting. Fasting, going on without food in order to spend time in prayer, is noble and difficult. Most people talk about it, practice the spiritual discipline, and yield some spiritual fruits. Fasting brings a spiritual refreshing and strengthens the soul when done orderly and accordingly. Some Christians are hesitant to fast, yet it’s a powerful way of connecting with God. Fasting is connected to the secret place where we enter the inner chamber in prayer. Therefore, prayer and fasting are the hands in gloves.
I learned through the scriptures that fasting gives us time to pray, teaches self-discipline, and abstaining from fleshly desires. Now, in the scriptural context, Jesus was not condemning fasting, but the hypocrisy done by the Pharisees. Within the scripture Jesus highlights people who fast in order to gain public approval. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy and sour and dreary like the hypocrites, for they put on a dismal countenance, that their fasting may be apparent to and seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full already.” (Matthew 6:16)
The Pharisees voluntarily fasted twice a week to impress the people with their holiness. But I wonder what Jesus meant when he said, “But when you fast anoint your head and wash your face.” (Matthew 6:17). This shows a distinction between the hypocrites and those who fasted from the heart. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me, with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13). The true believer fast from the heart and returns to God sincerely while the hypocrites fast to be seen by men.
Anointing the head was common in ancient times. It was customary for people to anoint their heads during meals. It was like a person using deodorant. Oil was a basic part of sitting down together for a meal, and the Pharisee had been inhospitable by not providing any. So, Jesus said, “anoint your head, or put oil on your head.” The head denotes to thinking process during the fasting and praying. Some people struggle when fasting, but the oil seals the fasting as one focus in prayer. We are not to showcase the fasting by being downcast but to be grateful, prayerful, and cheerful. Our out wide appearance has to be anointed with oil and faces have to be washed as usual yet within secretly connected to God.
Lessons learned about fasting
-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki
United Church of Bennington and Soloman Yoked Parish
Prayer for Reflection
O God, teach me to practice self-denial and self -discipline in my spiritual journey. I will not fast to be seen by men but to be rewarded by you my God, Amen
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