I heard a pastor the other day talk about how the early church in the first century loved their communities so much that they would fast for days so that those that were starving could eat.
That's not often a reason I hear for fasting.
I think of Isaiah 58 where God says we’ve got it all wrong, “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers...Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily...If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;” (ESV).
Oh Lord, have we completely missed the whole point of fasting? Fasting is about justice. It seems to be about choosing to suffer in solidarity with those that are.
Yes, I believe there is a place to say, “God I hunger for you more than food.” It can be an act of devotion. It can be a way we yearn for the bridegroom, singing Hallelujah til he comes, but I think there is more.
I don’t know where we got this idea that we fast to get things. Maybe it’s biblical, but Jesus didn’t seem to do that.
I keep thinking of the verse where Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
To do the will of the Father.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees that the disciples didn’t need to fast because the bridegroom was with them. (Mark 2:19, ESV). They were seeing the kingdom break in and heal the suffering sojourners of Israel.
Then there is that weird verse when the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon and what does Jesus say?
“This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, ESV).
Yes, it’s a footnote, but it made the cut, so what does this verse mean?
I think we’ve missed something key in the compassion of Jesus. It wasn’t just a good character trait, but the means of God’s power of healing through him.
Shared pain heals.
It’s why more than encouraging words we just want someone to sit with us and shed a tear along with ours. It’s why Jesus wept and why ultimately, he went to the cross.
Nouwen puts it this way, “No one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process...In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?”
No one. Not even Jesus. It’s what makes this story beautiful. This is the way of Jesus.
Personally, I think the verse makes sense if certain demons only leave with prayer and fasting because it requires us to choose suffering and enter into the pain of the one tormented. Even if it is only in the slightest. We approach God in prayer on their behalf, gaining his heart, and feeling to the fullest the weakness of our own flesh on our bones. We desperately experience our humanity and the need for divinity.
I know many are fasting right now, for a variety of reasons: but many for the current climate of our city. And suffering in our bodies moves our souls. It always does. Compassion moves our feet, as their problems become ours, our brokenness just as much identified as theirs, and the pain shared.
It’s the beauty of the entire gospel we believe in. Jesus entered the pain of the world to share it, to heal it. And he calls to take up a cross to see this very healing in our world.
Isaiah 58 makes it clear that fasting is never solely spiritual, which shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus’ way is always holistic. What we see here is that doing his will in the world should feed us more than even physical food. There is mystery here, and I choose to lean in it. Yet, it seems so apparent that when we fast, it’s about justice.
I don’t know what suffering love will lead you to do, but it is evident that fasts move our feet as much as our hearts.
Book: Nouwen, H. J. M. (1994). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.