“Please, Daddy,” my 2-year-old daughter says to me. And then she flashes her pale blue eyes, pushes out her bottom lip, and gives me a look of sweet desperation, hoping her overwhelming cuteness will be enough to make me cave. Most of the time her tactic works, which is why she’s not bashful in employing it! She has learned that when it comes to getting what you want, presentation matters.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses this concept of presentation directly, particularly as it relates to fasting. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, he says (v. 16). He makes it clear that presenting yourself as a righteous person misses the point. Fasting is primarily a practice of self-denial, intended for self-reflection and recommitting ourselves to God’s reign over all facets of our life. Fasting involves deepening our relationship with God, neighbor, and creation rather than presenting ourselves for individual recognition.
I was a college student when Facebook first arrived on campuses. After creating an account, I quickly discovered the allure of documenting my every move and presenting myself as someone who had it all together. Social media, in all its forms and outlets, lets us present ourselves in the ways we hope others perceive us. Perhaps fasting trends in Jesus’ day weren’t all that different from the allure of a pious or put together social media presence.
The desire to be recognized and respected seems to span millennia. Most of us long to be noticed and appreciated for whatever we define as being a “good” person. Yet, true fasting invites the opposite desire. The intentional practice of self-denial leads us to not elevate ourselves, but to renovate our hearts by the grace of God.
What might God be calling you to fast from today? How might detachment from these things help you grow closer to God and your neighbors?
Help us to be present with you, God, instead of presenting our image. Amen.