Quick! Fast!

by MW Cook

So the Muslim world just started fasting again. For the next month faithful Muslims will avoid food, drink, smoking and sex while the sun is up. Not only that, but every mosque will hold Qur’an recitations every day and actually get through the entire book before the month is up. And the already burdensome prayer times will get a boost. Whole lot of religious duties going on!

At this point Christians will usually shake their heads, make a bit of a *tsk* sound and say, “Don’t they realize that all these religious works are useless? Don’t they realize that they are missing a key thing that negates all the hard work they’re putting into their faith? Poor, misguided Muslims.”

I guess I shouldn’t sound so … snarky, should I? I mean, anything spiritual without Jesus really does seem useless. But I just can’t help thinking about all the ways Christians nullify their own spiritual acts. Fasting, for example. Some people think it’s a bit of a lost Christian art, but I know a lot of Christians who still fast. And I wonder how many fast in the way God intended. Like how Isaiah says we are supposed to fast in Isaiah 58. In that part of the Bible, God is calling the people’s fast useless because they did it wrong. And then he laid out how to do it right:

  • Loose the bonds of wickedness (v.6). – Break yourself and others free from sin and self-destructive habits.
  • Undo the straps of the yoke (v.6). – Undo burdens. Help people.
  • Break every yoke (v.6). – Be an enabler. Break people out of whatever is holding them back.
  • Share bread with the hungry (v.7). – What deep, spiritual truth are we meant to wrestle out of this confusing text? What grand, internal glory can we take? Just feed the hungry.
  • Invite homeless people into your house (v.7). – Er… of course the prophet must be exaggerating here. I mean, homeless people are dirty and awkward. He wouldn’t really have us invite them in… Right?
  • Give clothes to the naked (v.7) – Supply the basic needs for people who do not have them.
  • Don’t hide from fellow humans (v.7) – Don’t look at your watch when you pass that homeless guy. Don’t pretend to see something interesting across the street. Don’t set your face like flint and stare resolutely ahead of yourself as you pass the one living without a roof over his head. Jesus identifies with that man, you silly Christian. Oughtn’t we?
  • I feel like I cannot criticize another group’s fast when they leave something out when the group I grew up in seems to be doing the same thing, y’know?