The Pharisees ask Jesus about “fasting” in part of today’s text. To “fast” in the strict sense of the word is to abstain from all food and to drink only water for a specified period of time, whether short or long.
People sometimes fast to signify sorrow, while confessing their sins, in times of trouble, to concentrate on some spiritual issue, or for physical discipline.
A lot of famous people were in the habit of fasting: the philosophers Socrates & Plato, the physician Hippocrates, the mathematician Pythagoras, the artist Leonardo Da Vinci, the pacifist Gandhi, the theologians Luther, Calvin, Wesley.
Such a list shows that not only Christians fast. Any heathen can stop eating for a while. Political “hunger strikes” were all the rage back in the 70’s. In some ways it can be like a kid holding his breath till he gets his way.
On the other hand, Luke tells us that Anna the prophetess “served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” The Pharisees remind Jesus in today’s text that the disciples of John fasted in penitent preparation for the coming of Christ. Our Lord Himself fasted for 40 days and 40 nights during His wilderness temptation. And then there was Jesus’ remark about a demon-possessed boy- that “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
In warning against phony displays of piety. Jesus makes an assumption. He says to His disciples, “When you fast…” Fasting is mentioned in our Lutheran Confessions, and specifically in The Small Catechism which says, “Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but…”
In a day when folks are afraid of 5 minutes of total silence – the silence which leaves us alone with God – who would argue that a little more spiritual discipline might not be a good thing? It wouldn’t hurt to set aside the bodily appetites, to quit texting for an hour, to turn off the TV long enough to meditate on a portion of Scripture and to have a real conversation with our Father. Maybe this is why past giants of faith seem a bit more heroic than today’s pampered pew-sitters who only “play” at prayer and Bible study.
The New Testament does not command fasting. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Like any other exercise in devotion, fasting can degenerate into a self-righteous external. A rich “inner life” of prayer and meditation grows as a fruit of faith in Christ. In fact, in today’s text, Jesus compares His coming into our lives to a wedding banquet, to a joyous celebration, to the making of wine and to the drinking of it! It all starts in today’s text when Levi (Matthew) throws “a great banquet.” And guess who comes to dinner?