Thursday 11 August 2016

Bible Book:

Matthew 6:16-18 Thursday 11 August 2016

Psalm: Psalm 133


Matthew's third example of righteous living (after almsgivingand prayer) is in reference to fasting. It is interesting to notethat the Gospels do not contain many references to Jesus fasting,apart from the tempting in the desert (Matthew 4). In Matthew 9:14, the disciples of John ask Jesuswhy his disciples do not fast. Jesus' response seems to suggestthat there is no need to fast when he is present but "the days willcome when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then theywill fast" (Matthew 9:15). Yet in this passage theinstruction is clear: "but when you fast …". Jesus assumes hisfollowers will participate in fasting.

At the time when Matthew's Gospel was written the Jewish peoplewere well known for their traditions of fasting. Whilst many of theworld's religions include fasting from food, this has lapsed withinthe Christian tradition. As Western Christians many of us are notused to being told what to eat or abstain from. Fasting from food,or indeed any kind of abstinence, does not fit easily within acultural context where self-fulfilment has priority and self-denialis perceived so negatively.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Press,2015), suggests that fasting and indeed various forms of abstinenceare an important feature of being a disciple of Christ: "Strictexercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian'slife. Such customs have only one purpose - to make the disciplesmore ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God wouldhave done". Bonhoeffer echoes the words of verse 17, theinstruction to put oil on your head and wash your face, referringto a cheerful as opposed to dismal appearance. Whilst we might seethe need to fast as bringing benefit to our physical bodies we needto rediscover a form of fasting (abstaining) which enables us tofocus on God. In the hyper-connected world of social media, itbecomes increasingly difficult for some people to resist displayingtheir activities and their abstinences as trophies to whomever iswatching. Jesus' invitation is to a depth of spirituality withoutthe need for the praise of others. In our world with very fewsecrets, abstaining could recover a sense of intimacy with the Godrevealed to us in Christ, in whom we are truly and fully known.

To Ponder

  • From what might you benefit abstaining?
  • At what times (if any) in your life have you felt close toGod?
  • What do you learn from those occasions of closeness toGod?
  • What could you do now to re-connect and refocus onGod? 
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