Blast From the Past: Thoughts on Lent

Lent Festival, Maribor, Slovenia
Lent Festival, Maribor, Slovenia

This post came out of a short discussion on keeping Lent on FR a few years ago. Obviously, I won’t be keeping the fast, but as you guys know by now, I have nothing against tradition per se. Just the opposite, in fact. I simply believe, per the Lord’s example, that all tradition must be tested against the written Word of God and altered or tossed out where there is the least conflict with the plain meaning of Scripture.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Lent as a tradition. In fact, there’s a Jewish corollary on the other side of the sun, where it is traditional to fast for the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur, a season called T’shuva (repentance). The tradition came out of another tradition which said that those were the 40 days that Moses fasted before the Lord on Israel’s behalf after the golden calf incident (Ex. 34:28) and descended on Yom Kippur with the new stone tablets, showing that God had forgiven Israel and restored the covenant.

It is likely that it was during that same period that Yeshua fasted in the wilderness and was tested by the Adversary.

However, it is true that anyone who fasts on a particular day should avoid boasting of it in any way, nor should he see the fast as an avenue to righteousness in and of itself. Speaking (I believe) of Yom Kippur, Isaiah writes (and here I’ll use the old King James just for its poetic virtues),

Wherefore have we fasted, say they,
and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul,
and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate,
and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day,
to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?
a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast,
and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens,
and to let the oppressed go free,
and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke,
the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity,
and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually,
and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden,
and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.

–Isa. 58:3-11

Speaking, I believe, of the same season, Yeshua says,

And when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, of a sad face. For they disfigure their faces so that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to fast, but to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. (Mat. 6:16-18)

The same applies to my Catholic friends who fast–that is, give up one or more pleasures–during Lent. There’s nothing wrong with the tradition, though I would point out that Yeshua’s disciples did not fast leading up to the Passover in which He was Crucified, for,

Yeshua said to them, “Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast” (Mat. 9:15).

However, don’t fall into the trap of telling each other what you are giving up. First of all, you risk it becoming a matter of pride and one-upping each other, and secondly, Yeshua told us explicitly to do such things in private and before God, not openly before men.  This is to be a fast to the Holy One, not to our own egos.

Shalom.

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