“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
– Matthew 6:16-18 (Jesus speaking; our 17th segment of the Sermon on the Mount)
Having completed His digressive teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives above His third and final example of the following principle:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
– Matthew 6:1
In effect, Jesus has said, “Do not give to the poor before men to be noticed by them” and “Do not pray before men to be noticed by them.” Now He is saying, “Do not fast before men to be noticed by them.”
Jesus picked these three activities because He knew that His audience was familiar with these public displays put on by the religious leaders of Israel. Now we can better appreciate what you’ll recall Jesus said earlier in this sermon:
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:20
The religious elite in Jesus’ day had corrupted the spiritual practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting by turning them into performance art intended to impress human onlookers. These practices were ostensibly undertaken for the sake of God but the sad reality was that He was being left out of them entirely. As a result, He was unimpressed. These religious leaders were wasting God’s time as well as their own.
Jesus wants something better, richer, and more meaningful for His disciples. He wants us to practice our righteousness before Him – for His approval, and His alone. He wants us to have a faith that these religious leaders did not – an assurance that God is always watching us…with a readiness to respond as appropriate.
(Remember that prayer is more about listening than talking. Use the words below to start yourself, but then allow time to reflect more on the Scripture above before you say the “Amen.” During that time of quiet reflection, let God shape your thoughts and wait for a sense of peace to come. That’s your signal to say “Amen” and go forth to the day.)
Lord, when I’m at home, at work, or anywhere else, I’ll trust that You are watching not just my behavior but my thoughts as well…(this is where you remain quiet to let Him work in your thoughts)… Amen.
(All scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NASB.)