Sherry Sommer

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-17 (NIV)

Jesus talks about fasting as he does about giving and praying. He says “when you…”  He could say “when you fast” to his audience because it was a normal discipline in the ancient Jewish world. It’s not clear that fasting is required for modern day followers of  Jesus, and fasting is foreign to many of us, including me.  We can make Jesus’  teaching on fasting relevant to our situation by interpreting it as reinforcement, not to make a show of religious practices. However, there is another way to unpack his teaching.

Even though fasting was a customary practice for Jews in Jesus’ time, they lacked a full  understanding of it.  Apparently, the prevailing norm was abstaining from food while making a dramatic show of piety.  If we look at the book of Isaiah, we can see that this was not a new problem for the Jews. In Isaiah, the prophet criticizes shallow and transactional interpretations of fasting that sounded like:  “God, we will fast and you will reward us. What? We have fasted…why aren’t you rewarding us?” Isaiah points out that the sacrifices the Jews of that time were making didn’t address their heart issues. They thought they could fast  while mistreating their workers and fighting. Isaiah makes it clear that God could not be manipulated into producing blessings. He wanted transformed hearts and a people who cared for others.  

The prophet proposes that his audience fast, not just from food, but from being self centered and self absorbed. He asks that people work toward justice in their communities and to refrain from being judgemental and aimless. Properly practiced, Isaiah says fasting is not about being self focused at all.  It’s about saying no to something that we normally rely on, in order to realign our values.  Jesus’ way is to remember to care not only for our own needs but for the needs of others. 


I’ve  been trying intermittent fasting in this season — which is eating during an eight hour window. I’ve found that it has helped declutter my days — with less time spent thinking about, preparing, and cleaning up after meals! I’m also trying to compress my screen time. This frees up so much time and brain power when I stick with it! 

Today I was reminded of Revelation 3:20: 

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person,
they with me.

Perhaps if we take the time to fast from food or other things we normally rely on, we can be freed up to hear Jesus. We can be refreshed and transformed by sharing the meal he provides.  

Pray about what God might teach you about fasting during this season of Lent. 

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the LORD?”

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness] will go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.'”

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 58

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