Lent: Preparation for Lent – Friday

Background: Why Fast?

What is fasting? Simply put, it is to go without food and water for a set period. Many doctors and dietitians agree that fasting is good for the body as it helps us to get rid of harmful chemicals that the body, for whatever reason, has stored and not removed. The length of time for a fast varies – a fast can last for part of a day, a whole day or several days. The severity of the fast can also vary – some fasts allow water but not food, and some allow some foods but not others.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, originally, the fast associated with Lent was very strict. Those taking part were allowed one meal a day, around three o’clock in the afternoon. They were not allowed to eat meat or fish and some went even further, foregoing eggs and any kind of milk or milk-based foods. Over time, though, the severity of the fast was relaxed to include a drink and light snack at midday.

The Bible makes it clear that fasting was about much more than de-toxifying the body. Fasting was associated with a recognition of one’s sin and with repentance from that sin. In the calendar of Israel’s celebrations, there was only one fast, the Day of Atonement, a day of mourning over sin and of reconciliation with God. And it was also clear that the fast was to help God’s people to remember their sin; it was only a means to that end. The prophet Isaiah condemned those who outwardly fasted without the necessary inward repentance. And not only an act of repentance but the fruit of true repentance – to do justice and mercy and faithfulness. Fasting is about becoming right with our God.

‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

saiah 58:3-5

It should be clear, then, that if we choose to fast, we must remember why we fast. Fasting, alone, is worthless. What is done by grace through faith, first in our hearts and then in our lives, is the real point of our fast.

To Seek and to Save

As they were going along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another, he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62

For this first Friday reflection, Dr Ferguson draws our attention to “three men on the road”. And he uses Jesus’ encounter with these three men to teach us something about discipleship – about being a follower of Jesus. As we think about each of these three men we can contrast them with Jesus, who had set His face to go to Jerusalem where He would make the ultimate sacrifice, laying down His life as a ransom for many. Dr Ferguson suggests that we can think of these men as examples of the types of ground Jesus taught about in the Parable of the Sower.

The first man we meet offers to follow Jesus. He is full of confidence that wherever Jesus leads, he will be able to follow. But it only takes one question for him to fail: what if there is nowhere for you to sleep? This man is like the seed that fell on rocky ground and is snatched away. The second man we meet is called by Jesus. He, too, fails, because he wants to wait until after his father’s funeral. It’s possible that the man’s father is still alive, but near death, so the man seems to be saying that he would follow Jesus, but later. Jesus teaches that when it comes to being one of His disciples, nothing else can take priority. This man is like the seed that falls on shallow soil, where there is immediate joy but no repentance, and so soon dies. The third man that we meet also volunteers, just like the first. But, like the second man, there is something that he wants to do first: say his goodbyes to his family. Jesus tells him that no one who sets his hands to the plough and then turns back is fit for the kingdom of God. This man is like the seed that falls among thorns, “where the cares riches and pleasures of life” choke it.

Dr Ferguson tells us that we can learn from this parable that what Jesus wants is ‘“I am willing to give up everything, go anywhere, do anything for you” disciples.’ He leaves us with this question:

What reservations do you have about Christ’s lordship over your life? What gives you confidence that He is worth following?

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