by Bruce Hanson


“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 6:16-18

While this week’s scripture is specifically about fasting, my job for the week is to step back and examine just how the passage above fits in with the entirety of Matthew Chapter 6. To do so, we need to back up and take a look at Matthew 6:1.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

Jesus is attempting to turn around a world that is entirely saturated with legalisms. Consider the rich young man who approached Jesus with
the following question.

“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life ?” Matthew 19:16

This was a world caught up in doing. What must I DO to receive eternal life? The moment it becomes all about us and the things we do, our world gravitates to one that is highly concerned with comparing ourselves to others. We must measure up. We want to look good, so we put on a show. Create a scene.
When we give bread to our needy neighbors, we do so with much pomp and circumstance. It’s not so much about them as about us. The same is true of prayer. Jesus warns of praying publicly in order to be seen. Using big words and long sentences. All about our heads. Not about our hearts. How do we look?
And this week, Jesus emphasizes the same perspective in regards to fasting. The purpose of fasting was/is to separate oneself from the things of the world
in order to draw closer to God. It is not about sacrifice. No tit for tat. That’s a head thing. It’s about mercy. That’s a heart thing. What is our purpose?

Let me finish by hearkening back to one of my favorite Old Testament verses.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Jesse didn’t even consider David when he paraded his sons before Samuel, extolling their virtues and achievements. It was about what they’d done and
how they looked. God set both Jesse and Samuel straight. 

If our hearts are right, our actions will follow. And we will be seen by God. Seen and rewarded.

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