In the thick of what the religious calendar highlights as “Lent” (wikipedia-” in the Christian religion an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches.” The practice and observance of Lent is not found in the bible, rather was instituted by men.), I come to Christ’s instructions on the matter of fasting.
Considering the potpourri of skewed practices, we would all do well to consider the Master’s words and apply them to our present pre-Easter season.
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” ~Mark 2:18
Here, we find almost everyone in the religious community fasting. Not only were the Pharisees, whose focus was on external piety and show-off sacrifice, fasting, but also John’s disciples whose focus was on repentance and turning from sin. So we have both right and wrong motive fasting taking place in this particular instance.
There was one group who was not fasting – Jesus and his disciples.
Dare I say we find the same situation this very day. During this Lenten season many show-offs are making well-known their religious “sacrifices”. Just as many honest hearts are taking this season to mourn over their sin and humble themselves in repentance and fasting. But what of Jesus’ disciples? What should we be found doing during this time of ubiquitous fasting?
“Why do… your disciples not fast?”
Notice the condemnation is poorly disguised as curiosity by these so-called spiritual superiors. Mosaic law required fasting only once annually on the Day of Atonement. Many fasted much more frequently, with the Pharisees leading the way by fasting twice a week (Luke 18:12), but the law did not bind them to it. Instead, their own man-made code of conduct and righteousness did.
Often, men who practice self-exalting shows of external piety will attempt to cast doubt upon those who do not play into their self-righteous “rules” and rituals. God pity those who make their own methods and endeavor to enforce them upon the masses (Acts 15:10-11).
Nevertheless, Jesus answered this question for us all more than 2,000 years ago. You’d think more “disciples” would have caught onto his message by now. What was he saying? What did he mean?
19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” ~Mark 2:19-22
Jesus makes clear that when he was with his people they had no need to fast. Where there is joy and celebration and life and peace, fasting is unnecessary. Conversely, when Christ is taken away, his disciples will assuredly fast.
Clearly, Jesus is pointing to the time after the cross, but also, he is instructing his followers on the time of life when fasting is most appropriate. It surely isn’t when or because everyone else is fasting. It isn’t when the religious community deems it appropriate. It isn’t when other people are repenting. Jesus shows us that fasting is most appropriate when we most need him.
Is that once a year during Lent? Or do Christ’s words point to a different reality? The answer is obvious.
It’s in the times when we seem separated, lost, unable to find him, or cannot see his wisdom. We must fast when Christ’s way and God’s will elude our understanding or wage violently against our flesh. Fasting is extremely necessary for disciples of Christ, but how and when we fast is of utmost importance as well.
Fasting for a Christian should never be an external show. In fact, no one should know (Matthew 6:16-18) except Christ and us. It should not be whenever others tell us we must lest it become an empty ritual or a prideful show. Fasting should be done when we most need wisdom, guidance, understanding, or consolation from Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is personal, practical, and periodic throughout every month and every year as the yearner longs and lives to draw close to the bridegroom – the love of our lives – Jesus Christ. ♥
Should Christians fast? Absolutely. Fasting humbles us and gives the Lord our full attention as we seek to hear from him through contrition and prayer. Should we make our fast known or do it whenever others tell us we must? Absolutely not. It is most appropriate to fast when we most need to hear from Christ. It is personal, practical, and periodic throughout every month and every year as we chase our Lover.