Fasting in the Christian life is sometimes thought of as legalistic, at least among Protestants. It is also a difficult thing to do, a spiritual discipline that many turn away from because it is painful. When we exercise, our muscles get sore. But it is good for us.
Jesus Himself fasted (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13) and reveals that His disciples will fast after His death, resurrection, and ascension. The timing of fasting is important, as is the reason for it. Our passage today indicates this in an exchange between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist.
John’s disciples ask a reasonable question: why don’t Jesus’
disciples fast, while they (John’s followers) and the Pharisees do? Jesus
answers with a rhetorical question. A wedding feast is a time to celebrate. To
be in the moment. To celebrate a God-ordained union of man and woman. In
Christ, the union of God and man was present among us in a unique way. The Bridegroom
was there. The time for fasting would be more appropriate after Jesus’ earthly
ministry. The time was right to spend as much time with Him as possible.
Immersed in the joy of the moment, enjoying the Lord’s provision, having fellowship
around the table, sitting at His feet, and being instructed. Think of Mary
choosing the better thing to sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10: 38-42). Jesus lovingly
points out to John’s disciples that they ought not to miss what was happening
right in front of them.
There is a timing and rhythm to everything in life. Getting this right, getting on God’s time is important. We can learn something about this in today’s reading. Through prayer, reading, spiritual direction, fellowship, and reflection, we can discern the proper timing for our own actions in accordance with God’s will. This would include fasting. We can of course fast at regular intervals, at set times by our church or calendar. But we can also hear from God in our quiet moments that fasting or abstinence from certain things might be appropriate at other times.
Our reasons for fasting are also important. As we read about in the passage from Matthew 6, we must avoid the wrong motivations for fasting. Do we fast out of our own devotion or to be seen by others? Fasting helps us realize our finitude, frailty, and utter dependence upon God. There are other spiritual benefits. We do well to heed the words of the Lord Jesus and stay in tune with how God is leading as we progress toward the heavenly banquet.