Matthew 6.16-18 (5/9)
Fasting was an important religious duty among the Jewish people. According to an early record (the Didache) the Jewish custom was to fast on Mondays and Thursdays (market days); so Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays (8:1). The purpose of fasting was to strengthen prayer by showing how serious the supplicant was in their approach to God. The practice was being abused by hypocrites who “disfigured their faces” so others could see how religious they were. The NIV (and others) translate the Greek verb with “look somber” which fails to do justice to aphanidzo, a word that means literally “to not shine,” referring to the practice of disfiguring one’s face with ashes. In a “if a little’s good, more’s better” mind set they would try to outdo one another thus proving how serious they were in in their desire to please God.
Of course Jesus was well aware of all their hypocritical attempts. The word “hypocrite” was used of play-actors in the Greek theater and came to describe more broadly those who pretended to be what they weren’t. It is an apt description of the human tendency to deceive for personal benefit. It seems to be true that hypocrisy (in its many forms all the way from a lifted eyebrow to a bald faced lie) is at the root of all relational problems. Jesus calls for absolute candor in our relations with one another. What made hypocrisy even more unacceptable was that it was used in a religious setting.
It should be noted that all deviance from truth carries its own penalty. The results of duplicity leave their mark not only on the person deceived, but on the hypocrite himself. Orwell wrote, “to wear a mask is to discover that your face has grown to fit it,” but I tend to believe that to wear a mask makes it increasingly difficult to become the person you are pretendin to be. That hypocrisy deceives the hypocrite is the point C. Joybell C. makes in her observation, “hypocrisy annoys me, people need to look into mirrors. Let me hold a mirror in front of your face.” The only effective way to make that change toward what we want to be is to first admit who we are by nature and then seek the help of God to arrive at that goal.
Calling attention to one’s spiritual achievements as a measure of one’s spiritual growth is ironic in that by calling attention to it we see its absence.