12 Mar Rice & Beans Week 2: Fasting
“When you fast, do not look somber 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. 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 6:16-18)
Discovering Why We Fast
“If I give something up for Lent, why shouldn’t I give it up for the rest of the year, too?” This was a thoughtful question from a member of our church when we started our Lenten Rice & Beans practice. If it is good to stop doing something for 40 days, then why shouldn’t we stop for 365 days? Simply answered, fasting is a special time of doing something differently than usual. We put something aside as a simple way of making room for God to work in us.
Often Lenten fasts are from things that can be detrimental to our spiritual and physical health, like chocolate, television, or alcohol. But with the wrong motivation, we can turn any spiritual practice into an exercise in self-congratulation. In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us corrective instructions for several common spiritual practices: “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets…” (v. 2); “when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites…” (v. 5); “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites…” (v. 16).
Jesus affirms these practices while also telling us that we will do these same spiritual practices wrong. People will pray because they want to look smart and have beautiful words and sound important, and forget that prayer is a time when we open ourselves to be in communication with God. People will give to charity because they want other people to think that they are holy, but Jesus tells us to give because when we help the least of these we are actually helping him. (Matthew 25:40)
Fasting, whether from food, or hot showers, or television, is a practice that Jesus honored enough to tell us how to do it. People may think that fasting will make them holy. But fasting is holy only in the same way prayer and charity are holy. That is, as long as we don’t make it all about ourselves. Fasting makes us holy by opening space in our hearts for the Holy Spirit to take up residence and work within us.
Bob Brown, Co-Pastor
First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis, Indiana
East Africa Connection
For us, limiting our diet to rice and beans is a fast. For kids like Sauda, eating rice and beans is a feast, and a life-saving one at that. The video “Sauda’s Story” at eatriceandbeans.com/video will tell you more, and encourage you to embrace fasting out of compassion for hungry children.
Fasting in any form is generally uncommon in the western church. In the Bible, it is a common practice, and commonly needs correction. As we embrace this spiritual practice, let’s seek God’s heart on the matter.
Reflect on the daily reading, closing with the prayer below
Monday: Isaiah 58:1-5
Tuesday: Isaiah 58:6-12
Wednesday: Joel 2:12-14
Thursday: Mark 2:18-21
Friday: Luke 2:36-38
Saturday: Acts 13:1-3, 14:21-23
God, we have so much to learn. We want our spiritual practices to draw us closer to your heart, yet we fumble and get in our own way. Let this fast open up space within us to receive more of you, and let it turn our hearts toward those whose hunger won’t end without our help. Amen.