If you are participating in a lenten fast this year, perhaps by now you are starting to crave that thing which you have subtracted from your life. If you’re anything like me, it can be really easy to fall into the behaviors of the “hypocrites” that Jesus describes in today’s passage. I can put on a “dismal face” and “suffer for Jesus” like nobody else: “I could really go for some chocolate right about now.” “Why did I choose to give up coffee this Lent? I’m getting caffeine-withdrawal headaches!” “Oh great. Fish again.”
Indeed, it is often this passage in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that is frequently used by some Christians to dissuade fasting during the season of Lent because it frequently becomes a show, a test of wills, or a meaningless ritual that loses the true purpose of connection with God. To their point, I have encountered “fast shamers” who disparage others for not fasting enough or for fasting from the “wrong” things.
But fasting is so much more than subtracting certain foods or activities from your life for a season. As we have seen over the last few days, the true fast God desires is subtracting the haughty attitudes of pride, arrogance, and selfishness. We must subtract both the instinct that shames others not to fast at all—for fear of doing it “wrong”—and the smugness that somehow believes we are doing it better than others. Fast without either fear or pride, and know that God honors your efforts.