Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jesus' Teaching on Fasting in the Sermon on the Mount

These are the notes for a study I did on fasting last night, Please look at this and be free to use it, critique it or whatever.

Yoke: Matthew 11:29-30 “Take My Yoke upon you and learn from me, and I will give you rest for your souls. For my burden is easy and my burden is light”

When we this verse in Mathew 11 many of us think that Jesus is talking about an ox yoke, but in Jewish culture an tradition, according to pastor and teacher Rob Bell goes deeper than this. In Jewish culture, the Yoke was a Jewish Rabbis Teachings. It was a set of interpretations of the law. In the sermon of the mount, Jesus sets out his own Yoke, his set of teachings and interpretations of the law, he refocuses the law back on what it was intended to do, bring people in line with Gods desires.

Mathew 6:16-18
When you are fasting, do not look somber like the Hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; 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 men 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.

Fasting is an act of self-denial, it is the giving up of food, or something else to devote time to seeking out God and his desire for our lives. The time that we save from denying ourselves of certain activities can be given to serving others and the money saved from not spending on say those cups of coffee can be given to the poor or to the church. It can also be done as an act of worship. Many people perform the act of lent the 40 days leading up to Easter, giving up things such as TV, Chocolate, Coffee, anything as an act of worship and a living example that they want to put God first in their life during a period of time. As we all know the Baptist churches practice this act aswell with their month of self-denial leading up to Easter.

A little history lesson for us on fasting.
In Jewish Custom, there were six public fasts a year. Pharisees and devout Jews would also fast on Thurdays and Mondays, because according to Jewish tradition Moses ascended the Mount Sinai to receive the law on the Thursday and came back down on the Monday.

The Truly “Holy” person would fast more than this, and in these acts would advertise their “holiness” to the whole community – they would do this by not washing, not anointing the body, and by shaving their head and placing ashes on their head. It was said of the Rabbi Joshua that “all the days of his life his face was black by reason of his fasting.”

But what is fasting really for, is it about showing how “holy” you are? Not so, Jesus criticises these people he calls them “Hypocrites”. In the culture of the time the term hypocrite was a theatrical term used for actors, to describe people who were playing a role that they really weren’t. These Pharisees and other devout Jews were being unmasked by Jesus, he was showing them up as actors, people who did things to gain power in prestige in society, not out of a desire to get to know better.

Jesus seems to be having a good go at hypocrites. The word for hypocrite in Greek was a term used in thetheatre and was used for actors. Jesus gives a hard time to those who act like they are good and holy, but are really just all show and don’t get their stuff sorted with God.

So what is this about, is Fasting still important, and how should we conduct it. I believe that fasting is still important, I’m not very good at practising the disciple and would like to rediscover this discipline in my own life. Jesus is concerned in this passage particularly with private fasting. As Christians we should practice this privately, it shouldn’t be broadcasted to the world but practiced in secret. It is about sorting out our own personal relationship with Jesus, not about showing how holy we are to other people. If we are doing it to broadcast our holiness to people, we are missing the point.

No comments: