How Jesus's Whole Life Demonstrated True Fasting According to Isaiah 58
by Scott Cherry—
In the Hebrew scriptures (the Tanach, or Tawrat) there was a great prophet named Isaiah who wrote about the kind of fasting that God respects, the kind that demonstrates the spirit of selflessness and moral consistency for the sake of a higher cause. Here's an excerpt from chapter 58 of the prophet's tome, in the voice of GOD himself:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
"Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"
Over the years I have revisited this passage time and again to consider the qualities of the kind of fasting that God respects from his own lips. And, since it is in poetic form, once I even read it aloud at a Amnesty International poetry slam at UM Dearborn. There are many occasions in ancient Jewish history on which God commanded and/or responded to fasting, especially collective fasting for the purpose of repentance and averting God's judgment, or while imploring him for his deliverance against an enemy. Some examples are found in the ancient Hebrew books of Esther, Jonah, Nehemiah, and Ezra to name a few that are all contained in the Old Testament of the Bible (Tenach, Tawrat).
But the passage in focus from Isaiah 58 is none of these. It's different. In my recent considerations of it I have come to see it as paradigmatic, or a teaching directly from God on the principle of fasting that must be lived out. Although it certainly applies to actual fasting, i.e. abstinence from food, it's so much deeper and broader. It has much more to do with one's life paradigm. I'm talking about the things that characterize one's life, i.e. his/her lifestyle, mode of living, driving force, focus, direction, and orientation, etc. Most poignantly has to do with the degree of living for the benefit of others a person practices, or selflessness. A selfless person, in a sense, is always fasting. He/she lives a lifestyle of fasting because they so often deny their own gratifications for the sake of blessing and enriching others.
Then I got to thinking about Jesus. (What a surprise, right?) On the one hand, after his 40-day fastathon Jesus never fasted again. On the other hand, he never stopped fasting. But is that just double-speak? No, not in the sense in which I'm speaking. I'm saying that fasting is 1) a frame of mind. 2) is as much about what one does as it is about what one doesn't do. 3) has everything to do with the patterns of one's life and the consistency of one's daily habits and practices, having eaten or not eaten. In this sense Jesus set a very high if not unattainable bar. Yet he did not brandish his righteousness like a badge of honor; his humility was equal to it. Thus we can say he 'fasted' from self-aggrandizement and eschewed as much of it as he could (given that by all accounts he was truly a 'superstar').
Again, the paradigm of Jesus's life was his way of fasting, and it is what was most exemplary about it. He lived it not for his own benefit but for others'. That's why he said, "The son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a random for many." (Injeel, Luke 19:10, New Testament) Anyone who wants to please God must strive to emulate Jesus.