Matt. 6 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [English Standard Version]
Lent is a great season to practice what it really means to be a Christian. For some, including Lutherans and Christians other than Roman Catholics, it is a season for giving up certain temptations or luxuries in life. In recent years, some have suggested that Lent be a season of taking up new practices, like Jesus’ command to love one another, with more earnestness. These people believe that such a practice will teach us how loveless we can be and lead us to a true repentance over this lack of love.
But one thing remains true whether you’re giving something up, taking something up, or simply going through Lent without doing either. The idea of Lent is that whatever you do would be done in the spirit of Jesus’ words in Matt. 6. In the short section above, Jesus talks about fasting as something we are not to do grimacingly, that is, visibly. We should not do it in a way which broadcasts the fact that we are fasting. (He says the same thing about prayer in the verses just prior). Lent is not about putting on a faithful show. To use the language of our Lenten series, “The Miracle Of Faith,” Lent is not about “me and my faith,” language which appears to be more about a show the more and more we use it.
No. Christians are called to live “under the radar,” not putting up big shows of their faith, but rather quietly living the Christ-like life. Jesus’ words in Matt. 6 about both prayer and fasting see their ultimate fulfillment in the Jesus who prayed alone, away from the disciples, in the Garden. He faced the torture and suffering and death of the cross with few words and very little personal drama. Indeed, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about how salvation by a cross is a stumbling block precisely because no one would think to look to a cross for it. Jesus’ salvation is as “under the radar” as His birth in a stable outside a hick town near Jerusalem and His death on a cross outside Jerusalem’s walls.
The Gospel, Jesus’ salvation, is so hidden it’s easy to miss. One might ask why God didn’t make more of a spectacle of the whole occasion. While a definitive answer to that question may elude us, I would like to suggest that one of the reasons might be because that’s how the other so-called “gods” would do it. They, of course, are man-made. So the other side of that answer is that God hid His salvation precisely because this is how mankind would NOT save the world. We humans find it difficult not to glorify ourselves, thanks to sin.
Of course, whether or not we give up or take up in Lent, the bigger point is to live as humbly and mildly as our Lord. Of course, this also is a life not to be restricted to forty days in Lent, but every day. We may love people who are big and bold. We may think to ourselves, “Go big or go home.” But Christ teaches a life which thinks small. Or as John the Baptist put it so powerfully, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
If it is any other way, is Jesus glorified?
God bless your efforts to decrease that His Name alone might be praised for a salvation like His.
Christ’s servant for your sake,