16 But when you fast, don’t be somber like the hypocrites, for they mar their faces so as to appear to other people to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that you don’t appear to other people to be fasting, but rather to your father who is in secret. And your father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
19 Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. 20 But rather store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:16-21
On the one hand we look at the instructions Jesus gave for fasting, and we understand. Jesus doesn’t want us to be hypocrites. We are not supposed to put on a religious face for the public in order to gain respect. The temptation is to be much less spiritual in private and even in our own minds, while impressing friends, neighbors, and even enemies with how truly close to God we are.
But there’s another part of this that we don’t really understand as well. That’s the idea of fasting joyfully, of suffering just a little bitâ€”and I must admit that fasting is not a major hardship for me; I can live off the fat of the land, so to speakâ€”and doing so not merely without showing it, but with joy.
I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday, though most of you will read it tomorrow. In this part of the world, at least, Ash Wednesday is preceded by Fat Tuesday. Revelry that has been going on for weeks comes to a climax. In the old times, this would be followed by the ceremonies of Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our mortality, and our need for repentance. Tuesday is for joy, but Wednesday is for sorrow and soul searching.
During Lent, many of us will give something up, some token at least of a fast during these forty days. We’ll be asked, â€œWhat are you giving up for Lent?â€ Don’t ask me. I’m not going to tell you whether I’m doing anything of that sort, or what it is. That’s between me and God.
You see, I think Lent should be a time of joy for us. In fact, I think all times should be a time of joy. The fact that we have parties and celebrations leading up to Lent, and then we think we have to become all spiritual and doleful symbolizes how little we’ve managed to understand about what Jesus Christ actually did.
You see, Christianity is about transformation. People are transformed. Times are transformed. Symbols are transformed. That doesn’t mean there should be no solemnity during Lent, as we remember what Jesus has done for us, but throughout this time there should be a profound joy. This should also be a time when we let Jesus work on the inside, rather than making a show of the outside.
Jesus transformed many symbols, including the symbol of the cross.
The transformation that Jesus accomplished on the cross, symbolized by the transformation of the cross itself, is something that we all can grasp. Circumstances and our environment are not fixed things that we have to take as they are. They can be transformed by our attitude and by the way that we deal with them. Every cross in your life, everything that you would prefer not to have done or not to have encountered can be transformed. — Henry Neufeld, Not Ashamed of the Gospel, p. 20
Don’t think of your troubles as static. Jesus has blown that idea away! Prepare to transform your circumstances by the power that transformed the cross!