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Posts Tagged "16-21"

A God Who Hungers

March 06, 2019
By Rev. David French

“When you fast,” Jesus says, “do not be like the hypocrites.” When, not if, but when you fast. These words come from the Sermon on the Mount, and are considered by many to be some of Jesus’s good teachings. But once you read that sermon, you realize that Jesus is actually an unyielding taskmaster. Sure, the Beatitudes sound nice until He starts talking about the punishment for not doing them. Until He warns His disciples not to miss the mark by even the smallest dot.

In fact, to avoid any misunderstanding about the Law, Jesus launches into a six-fold intensification of the Law: “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you” - which leaves us somewhat surprised that anyone could be so un-loving with the Commandments. And those words lead to Jesus making it perfectly clear how well we need to obey the Commandments: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), which is followed by: “when you give to the needy … when you pray … when you fast.” Do not be like the hypocrites.

Prayer we can get behind, giving to the poor as well, at least in theory. But fasting is just odd. It seems too physical to have spiritual value. It’s too concerned with what you eat—or don’t eat—to be a real spiritual blessing. We’re a people who live in the glorious freedom of the Gospel, not tempted by the works righteous idea about fasting to earn God’s favor.

And yet, Jesus said “when you fast.” Fasting means abstaining, not just from sodas or candy for forty days, but from food altogether. That’s why fasting seems way too physical. What does bordering on starvation have to do with our spirituality or our Christian devotion?

“Behold the man!” said Pilate as soldiers trotted out before the jeering crowds a freshly flogged Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe meant to induce pain and invite ridicule. Heeding this Word of God spoken by Pilot however is exactly what we’ll be doing throughout this year’s Lenten season.

In Jesus, God and man are one. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The One begotten of the Father from all eternity, our Savior, is the One born of the Virgin Mary. Behold the man! Just like you, He has skin and bones, blood vessels and lymph nodes, teeth and hair, heart and lungs, hands, feet, eyes, lips, tongue, and stomach. He eats, breathes, walks, talks, sleeps, prays, weeps, laughs, bleeds, dies, rises, ascends, sits, and He will one day come back to bring us to be with Him in our heavenly home. Behold the man, Jesus, your Brother.

Unlike you, however, He has no sin. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, His human nature is perfect, unspoiled by Adam’s rebellion. He was certainly tempted in every way, just as you are, yet He was without sin. His desires were never distorted into lust, greed, coveting, or idolatry. Like unblemished Adam at the close of the sixth day of creation, when God declared that all was “very good,” Jesus is as human as human can be, as human as He intends to make you and me in the Day of the resurrection of all the dead.

So why fasting? The Gospel for this coming Sunday places Jesus in the wilderness right after His Baptism, fasting for forty days, being tempted by the devil. This is not fasting the way most people think of it. This isn’t eating fish instead of meat or giving up some pet vice. For forty days, Jesus ate nothing.

But God not eating for forty days doesn’t sound like that big a deal. I mean, eating isn’t something God usually does. But, behold the man! The God who took on human flesh in the virgin’s womb is the infant at the breast of His mother filling His newborn stomach, the toddler whose parents introduced new foods to, the boy eating the Passover lamb with His extended family. The God-man who needs to eat in order to live. 

Lent, like fasting, is also oddly physical. But then, the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are designed to guard you against the temptation of being too spiritual. The temptation is just about as old as creation itself. When satan tempted Adam and Eve with the spiritual desire to be like God, they ignored His physical prohibition against eating from that one tree in the middle of the garden. At that moment, our first parents set the pattern for the rest of us, who now, with our sinful nature, prefer the so-called spiritual over the physical when it comes to our relationship with God. But this isn’t new, once God settled the Israelites in the Promised Land, they quickly abandoned the very physical worship of Yahweh alone by means of the sacrifices offered only in the temple in Jerusalem for the more spiritual, less-precise worship of the Baals and the Asherah.

Nicodemus even cracks a joke about the insanity of true religion involving a rebirth. And the Sadducees, they concocted their ridiculous story about the woman who married one of seven brothers to prove that physical resurrection is impossible. All of that is an attempt to substitute safer, spiritual platitudes for the real physical, fleshly realities of Christianity. And it’s all sin. It all takes glory, no matter how little we may think it to be, away from Jesus and puts it on us.

Give up your self-perceived hyper-spiritual pretensions. God isn’t like that. The incarnation had been in part of His plan from before the time He spoke the first words of creation. Behold the man in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. You, who have a body and the complete inability to use it as your Creator intended, can still have hope because Jesus fasted for you and for all.

He is the God who can eat, who needs to eat, so that He can abstain from eating, enduring the pains of hunger in order to deny His flesh what it desires – in your place. And that because you have inherited from Adam the sinful desire for the spiritual over the physical which opens the door for you to indulge the flesh with its evil desires. But God in the flesh, Jesus, is your substitute. He endured temptation and never sinned so that His spotless flesh and blood could be offered as the payment for all sin. Which means God gave His life for sinners like you and me.

So fast. Fast to discipline and chasten your flesh. Fast so that, as you learn to control your belly you will realize you can control other parts of your flesh as well … but never take your eyes off the cross. Remember that while much good can come from the discipline of fasting, our hope is still always and only in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who fasted, prayed, and gave alms perfectly for you. Behold the man whose flesh and blood are our hope and salvation, for His flesh is real food that satisfies those who hunger and His blood is real drink that quenches the deepest thirst.

Here at His altar is the man who gives Himself for you to break your fast. Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the enabling and strengthening of your love for one another. Behold the man veiled in bread and wine who comes to bless you His precious child.

In His Name, Amen.

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