28 February, 2021

American Fast

So, let's talk about Christian fasting. 

Last week I had to prep to teach Isaiah 58, which basically says "Ya'll are fasting to get me to hear you. Why don't you quit finger-pointing in ALL-CAPS at each other on Facebook and oppressing your poor? If you start caring for my children out of the good things I've given you, I'll hear your prayers, reward your fasts, and raise you up to glory."

I've never really been an advocate for fasting, and I was not sure how this chapter was supposed to make me into one, but I researched. That's one of the cool things about teaching through a lectionary instead of hunting and pecking your way through the Bible. You have to deal with stuff you usually ignore. I researched ... and came away less of a fan of fasting. 

It was all good until I decided to research Jesus' statement, "this kind only comes out with prayer and fasting" in Matt 17:21. Suprise! Matt 17:21 was not in my Bible. Suddenly, the game was afoot. It had a note telling me it was "included in some versions" and was a parallel of Mark 9:29, so off I went. Yeah. Mark 9:29 only said prayer, not fasting. But the King James said fasting in both places. 

More digging. 

It turns out several original Greek texts don't say fasting but several times more originals do say fasting than don't. The mystery deepened. If the majority vote in favor, why have all the modern versions picked the minority? 

Well, it turns out there's one more key verse in this mystery. 1 Corinthians 7:5 says you can defraud each other only for a time and only to engage in prayer and fasting. Yeah, the modern versions have omitted fasting there, too. This time, though, it's an open and shut case. They can clearly see when someone added the words "and fasting" to Paul's original text. They know the versions without fasting are correct. 

It seems the early church got all obsessed with the idea of fasting, to the point the Didache actually misquoted Jesus saying you should fast for your enemies when he actually said to pray for them. Big difference. 

Fasting was a big deal among the Jews, and therefore among the early Christians. Jesus clearly lays down some ground rules for how not to fast. Paul owns that he has fasted often. But, if you're going to look for advice on how to fast in the New Testament, you're going to look long and hard. 

We want our prayers to be loud before God, for him to hear and heal our land. It would be nice if skipping a handful of meals would make that happen, but the testimony of Isaiah 58 is unambiguous. Fasting without mercy and without self-sacrifice amplifies his anger toward you, not his grace. Mercy and self-sacrifice without fasting amplify his mercy. 

If America wants mercy from God, it must show mercy to his children.
+ Begin meaningfully comforting refugees who show up on our borders
+ Hear people when they cry out against wage slavery
+ Break the yokes when 500,000 people protest oppression in 500 places and 26 million overall
+ Make the courts a place where the poor can win