February 25 I Sunday
“When you fast, do not look sombre 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.” —Matthew 6:16
Fasting is meant to produce humility, but the pride and arrogance of the Pharisees distorted this spiritual practice so they could boast of their religiosity. Jesus called them out for “disfiguring their faces” when they fasted. The Jews performed various eating rituals before a meal, which included ceremonial washing and anointing with oil, but a Pharisee would reveal his fasting by forgoing these rituals and making his hunger obvious.
Like many spiritual disciplines, Jesus taught that fasting was between an individual and God and should not be broadcasted. He instructed the people, “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 6:17-18). The kind of fasting God will reward does not call attention to the person fasting. For the Jews, this meant disguising their fasting by continuing to participate in eating rituals even though they were not eating.
This is not the only spiritual discipline Jesus suggested performing in secret. In Matthew 6, He warns about announcing our giving to others. No one needs to know what God has placed on our hearts to give or to whom. Jesus said the same thing about prayer. He rebukes Jewish leaders who prayed loudly and proudly so they would be acknowledged by others. Jesus taught we should give in secret and pray quietly behind closed doors, for privacy is where we will receive the reward of intimacy with God.
The purpose of spiritual disciplines is to develop and deepen our relationship with God and to keep us mindful of being humbled before Him. If, like the Pharisees, we call attention to our participation in a humbling practice, “we have received our reward in full,” says Jesus. The Pharisees’ emphasis on adherence to the law made them lose sight of the relational purpose behind giving, praying and fasting. Their proud determination to appear spiritual for the praise of others negated any benefit these spiritual disciplines had to offer.
We must be wary of being driven by pride. Pride is the root of many sins and one of the greatest blockages to an intimate relationship with God. There is nothing wrong with giving publicly, praying in a group, or telling someone we are fasting, but when done with a proud heart for the purpose of being seen, we lose the spiritual good. When practiced in humility, spiritual disciplines will not only refresh us and draw us closer to God, but they create wonderful opportunities where God will speak to us.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, forgive me for the times my pride has won out over humility. Help me to keep these spiritual disciplines and allow me to drawer nearer to You. Thank You, Lord.