Jesus, Religion & YOU: Fasting for the right Reasons
Week 6 Chapter 7.1
People are often amazed to hear that Jesus was not fond of religion. For some reason, people equate Jesus with the way people imagine religion, which is the rules, regulations, and expectations kept by the Pharisees and common day cult leaders. However, Jesus was not like the Pharisees. In fact, He took many opportunities to “poke holes” in that culture’s definition of righteousness and proper behavior. What He did do was propose concepts that shocked the first century Jewish people to whom He spoke. Jesus seemed to break all the religious rules, especially the ones that the religious leaders held dear. We in today’s church have pet religious concepts that Jesus would smash too.
The three main areas of religious dogma that Jesus addressed were, fasting, ceremonial purification, and Sabbath holiness or sanctification. These areas are hotly contested today, and are contested even in Christian circles. While they do not take on a Jewish tone, the “rightness” of one kind or another of each of these concepts conjures up many differing opinions. We will look at each one. This week we are focusing on “Fasting.”
The purpose for Jesus’ scathing remarks at the time about the cultural milieu in religious circles, was to bring in true religious freedom, as well as a new way of looking at our responsibility to God.
The religion of the Pharisees, while looking pious for all its many rules, really enslaved the people to a religion that in truth was man focuses and not God centered.
Jesus was about to teach his disciples how to buck the system in order to worship the true God in the true way; which is God centered and not self focused.
Jesus was going to do more than give a defense for His model of what true religion should be. He was going to model it Himself in all that He did.
Let’s look at how He accomplishes this! The Scripture for this week is
Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2: 16-22; Luke 5: 33-39.
Fasting was seen, and sometimes still seen, as a pious act for devout religious people. The people of the time, including the followers of John the Baptist, saw it as a way to show God how good they were and to earn His favor.
Jesus, on the other hand, turned the whole concept on its head. He told the people that rather than a religious obligation, fasting was something that was a natural reaction to sadness, grief, trauma, and crises. What a concept! Most people I know, including me, get physically nauseous during times like these. When feeling like that, the last thing I want to do is to eat. My stomach churns and my throat burns. The thought of food is repulsive. All I can think about is God and the situation. I am only thinking of how we are going to work this through together. Therefore, fasting becomes a natural reaction to a relationship, and not a religious ritual that allows us to think we can manipulate God. Fasting and praying take a central focus because of distress not because we “owe” God, even if we do. Do you see the difference?
Jesus used the examples of the Bridegroom and the Bride, the old wineskins, and a patch in an old coat. Jesus was the Bridegroom, and as long as He was here, there was no reason to be sad. In His absence, however, the resultant sadness of the bride would be reason to fast. When He left, the disciples did fast and pray. They were sad because He was not with them anymore. Jesus was more concerned about the relational aspect of fasting than that religious obligation. He wanted our hearts to be in it. Is yours?
See Ya Next time….