We fast for the Lord, son.
While Isaiah 58 is certainly the definitive passage about fasting in the Old Testament, what does Jesus say about it?
Jesus has something to say about fasting in two points of his ministry. The first of which he talks about beginning in Matthew 6:16 as part of the Sermon on the Mount. The second time he is directly questioned about it beginning in Matthew 9:14, Mark 2:18 and Luke 5:33.
In Matthew 6, he talks about pasting in a nearly identical way to prayer and giving at the temple. It is not done to exalt the self and so should be done privately. In the New Testament era, fasting was most often associated with mourning. It was also usually not confined to just food but also intercourse and cleaning. This type of fasting made public, drew attention to the pain of that person or the issue they were in pain over. Jesus here is noting that the attention drawn negates the gifts that could be gained from the Father for the humbling act of fasting. He is correcting the fasting to be in more accordance with that of Isaiah 58.
In Matthew 9, Jesus is questioned about fasting and this passage has corollaries in Mark and Luke. He Jesus talks in a parable about fasting in response to why his disciples are not seen fasting often enough by the disciples of John the Baptist. He first answers his reasoning behind the perceived lack of fasting. A festival or party, like a wedding, superseded almost all other religious functions, especially fasting. In fact, many rabbis of the time chastised those who did not fully participate in the joy of the occasion. Jesus equates his disciples like of fasting to a wedding means that their purpose supersedes religious convention in a manner that is acceptable to all.
His secondary response drives us to a new sort of fasting. One that has the main purpose, not in mourning or drawing attention but in something else. This is the point of the new wineskin. The practice is being refilled with something new, a new approach. However, it won’t be a complete break from the old practices. This is revealed in his answer about the patched garment. The new patch will be shrunk in the old processes before being sewn onto the garment which has a hole where the practice of fasting ought to be.
So next week we will look at how the early church practiced fasting. This will allow us to glean the practice of Jesus’s teachings and how we can apply them to our lives. Perhaps we can even get science to weigh in on the value of the practice which can further spur on our own desire to draw closer to God through this practice.
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