February 14

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

"And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (NASB)

“I understand how one could call attention to self through benevolent giving or prayer.  But how could a person call public attention to self through fasting?”

First, consider the act.  It took a lot for God to “get through” to Judah!  The ten tribes known as Israel were subjected to bondage to never exist as a nation again.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  Babylonian captivity caused numerous hardships.  Resettlement was an ordeal.  Weekly fasting said: “God, I humble myself before You.  I know my place.  You do not need to punish me to humble me.”

That is an excellent attitude!  The problem: An excellent attitude became a meaningless ritual act.  It became a way to obligate God—“to bind God to my contract.”  “God, I cannot be punished; I fast!” 

Consider a similar situation today—baptism.  This commanded act was practiced by those entering the first century Christian community.  (1) It declared faith in the fact that the resurrected Jesus was God’s promised Christ.  (2) It declared one’s desire to redirect life.  (3) It bonded with and enacted Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  However, it was NOT a ritual act that obligated God to the contractual understanding of the baptized person.

Second, how could a faster call public attention to self?  The person deliberately neglected  appearance.  In modern terms, the person had uncombed hair, neglected normally shaved areas, wore no hygiene or appearance products, and wore a distressed expression.  The objective: look as gaunt as possible—perhaps powder the face with flour!  Jesus said that the attention was the reward!

Suggestion for reflection: When do good attitudes become bad acts?  (Read Isaiah 58)

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