[Jesus said] “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.”
A hypocrite is someone who acts differently outwardly than what they are on the inside. In today’s Bible passage, Jesus speaks against people who outwardly practice religion, but don’t truly believe it with their hearts. They are mostly interested in drawing attention to themselves and receiving compliments from others for being “such good people.”
Particularly, Jesus points out their misuse of the practice of fasting—voluntarily going without food and/or water for a period of time. Actually, God commanded his Old Testament people to fast in connection with their most important religious festival, the Day of Atonement. The purpose of fasting was to help people focus their attention on the Lord and what he accomplished for them according to his loving promises.
We may not fast or even know people who fast today as part of their faith-life. But other outward things indicate to others that we are practicing our faith. For example, folding our hands when we pray or placing a religious picture on our computer screen desktop. Jesus wants us to know that God is not pleased if we live our faith to get people to think better of us. However, God is pleased if our practices help us focus our attention on him and all that he has done to rescue us from eternal death and give us everlasting life.
Whatever ways we as individuals use to help us focus on our faith in God, we must remember that we gladly do it out of love for our Savior. That is worship that pleases God.
Jesus, I know that you examine my heart and understand the motivation for all that I do. Forgive me when I act only for show. Help me to worship you with a sincere heart and with practices that keep my attention on you as my Savior. Amen.