Category Archives: Fasting

Food in the Bible: Matthew 6:16-18

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Fasting is a spiritual discipline I talked about some during Lent (here and here). It seems that Jesus is combining fasting and feasting here in a way that I previously discussed. The purpose of your fasting is not so others will notice. So, dress and look as if you are feasting while your fasting. The things we do in secret reveal who we really are. The things we boldly proclaim to others only reveals who we wish we were, or how we want to be perceived. I know, because I’m guilty.

So, this passage got me thinking about food Pharisees. You know the whitewashed tombs, the cups that are clean on the outside but filthy inside. Yeah, that’s me. Okay, so we’re moving to this farm where, in reality, someone else does the hard work for us. The farm draws the lines and boundaries for our food in a way that we are unable or unwilling to do ourselves. That’s right. I’m confessing here.

Too often we climb on a soapbox and preach about the food system and then go home to fast food. We soothe our conscience by making excuses and justifications, but we’re just hypocrites. That’s the truth.

Look, I’m not saying we should all just feel guilty about our food and wallow in it. But we should tell the truth. We are all hypocrites.

Jesus turns the tables on us here and tells us to act the exact opposite. Don’t pretend you’re better or more spiritual than you are. Don’t pretend that the food you eat is untainted and pure. We are all enmeshed in the system. Instead we should be humble enough to admit that even the biggest activists are only a small piece of the puzzle.

Don’t think you’re more important or more righteous than you really are. That goes for Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and me.

Fasting and Feasting Part 2

I finally got around to fasting for Lent a week late. I’m giving up all my podcasts and blogs save one. This is my primary source of information and news so it’s a big deal. Hopefully this will free up more time for reading, blogging and spending quality time with my family. So, in this season of fasting there is also feasting. We abstain from one thing in order to open up other worlds we have been ignoring. The last post I had rambled on without addressing this passage from Matthew 9:14-15,

14 Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

It is clear from other texts that Jesus accused the Pharisees of gaudy religious practices that were hollow. Their fasting was perhaps a way of showing how much more religious they were than others. It set them apart as people who were really serious about their faith, and therefore put down those who did not practice their faith in a similar manner. Hmmm… I’ve met some of these people in my life. They have missed the point of fasting entirely.

Jesus puts this back in its proper context. What is fasting for? Because fasting is related to feasting, it doesn’t make sense for Jesus’ disciples to fast while Jesus is with them. They will mourn and fast when he is crucified, but what a waste to fast at a wedding party. How would the wedding party feel if you abstained from eating or drinking at their wedding? This puts you at the center. Your conviction or religious practice is put ahead of right relationships with people. Refusing to feast at a wedding is an insult to the celebration taking place.

Feasting celebrates the abundance of life and the goodness of creation. Fasting acknowledges the brokenness of the world and the distance between the present world and the coming kingdom. The two always go together, but confusing their proper roles and places misunderstands their nature and purpose.

Jesus is present to us now through the Spirit, therefore the Eucharist is a feast, a celebration of the abundance of God’s love and mercy. Yet, in this season of Lent we recognize the brokenness of ourselves and the world we live in. Fasting reminds us of the brokenness other’s experience daily that we so easily ignore.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Fasting and Feasting

“There is a season for pancakes and abstaining from pancakes.” I believe that is in Ecclesiastes, but I’m not sure. Lent is a season of the church calendar that is intimately connected with food. If I had more time, I would research why we eat pancakes for Shrove (Fat) Tuesday and the origins of Mardi Gras. I don’t so I will reflect simply on the relationship of fasting and feasting in this season. The passage that comes to mind is Matthew 9:14-15,

14 Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

What is the relationship of fasting and feasting? Usually Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) is seen as the last chance to gorge yourself before the season of Lent when you must live a more austere and holy life. This has always seemed like a bad way to think about the purpose of feasting in relation to fasting. The Apostle Paul would certainly quote himself saying, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? No way Jose!” (author’s paraphrase of Romans 6:1-2).

In Matthew’s gospel we catch a glimpse of how these two relate to one another. First let’s consider each one separately and then look at how they are connected. Feasts are prevalent in the Hebrew Bible. They celebrate the seasons of life, momentous occasions and YHWH’s decisive acting in history on behalf of YHWH’s people (Passover). Feasts acknowledged the abundance of life and the goodness of YHWH. These were celebrations of all that was right with the world. YHWH’s creation was indeed good.

As we all know this is not the whole story. Fasting is a reminder that everything is not right with the world. We are governed more by our lusts and base desires than any of us would care to admit. It is difficult, particularly for the affluent, to go without. Abstaining from things that are good in and of themselves and things that are necessary for our sustenance is a reminder of all that we have and those who do not.

The truth is feasting and fasting are never far from each other. The Passover is perhaps the clearest example of this. This feast recalls the oppression and injustice of slavery in Egypt. The seder meal celebrated for Passover begins, “When we were slaves in Egypt.” The remembrance of this past history identifies each generation with a dark time in Israel’s journey. At the very same time, the Passover celebrates YHWH’s action on behalf of the oppressed to liberate them spiritually, physically and economically.

And I haven’t even gotten to the passage from Matthew… We’ll save that for Part 2.