Fasting: Lavish Your Food on the Hungry
Isaiah 58 says that we must practice the acts of religion (almsgiving, fasting, and prayer) because of our love for God and neighbor. And these acts must be directed toward God rather than toward the recognition of people. This passage from Isaiah is essentially a foretaste of the gospel—the grace of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us because of our faith in Christ, which works through love (Galatians 5:5-6, NLT). It is James’s pure, genuine religion of caring for the widow and the orphan (James 1:27, NLT). This is it, God says. Do this, be this way; and you will be light, as I am Light. You will receive healing and mercy, for you have shown them. Christ has shown us how to live, to humbly lay aside our own lives for the sake of others.
Does it stir anything in you? Does it demand any change in how you live the life that has been given you? Is everything in order in your life? What else in you must be conformed to Christ? What is better than this life of serving the needs of others? What is more beautiful? Give yourself away. Pour out your life. Make your life light. Consider the life of Mother Teresa. Does it inspire you?
We live oddly in America, out of sorts and out of touch with the poor man at our door. It is not enough to get to the end of our lives and have a nice pension or retirement package. We need a little fight in us—that ancient desire to die in battle because such a death is noble and good. That's what we need more of in our American churches: to despise comforting ourselves to death. We need to be more like the early fathers of the faith who yearned for martyrdom in order to better unite themselves with Christ's passion and death. We need to think of our lives in Christ as Annie Dillard speaks of writing in The Writing Life: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now." This sort of self-abandonment is life in Christ.
Being "in Christ" is something worth living and dying for. I look at my life and I want to stir the waters, to lavish my food on the hungry and place myself at the service of the poor (Isaiah 58:10). To die, as it were, a noble death in battle. And yet here I am: I have a wife, and children. How do I give myself away? How do you? Our lives are not stories with grand climaxes. They are filled with ups and downs, with joys and sorrows. Their trajectories do not build as fiction does. They resemble the grand regularity of the bumping green dot of a heart monitor. We are called to the extraordinary when we are called to Christ, but it is the extraordinariness of humility—doing little things with love.
Not many of us will “die in battle,” become martyrs. Most of us are called to ordinary lives and daily deaths. To be in Christ is a call to live and love in community:
"A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day." (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth)
This is our life in Christ, pouring ourselves out for our spouses and our children, for the poor. It is loving your neighbor and tending your garden. It is becoming nothing in order that Christ might be everything.
Lavish your food on the hungry. This is the fast God calls us to.
"When people love each other, they are content with very little. When we have light and joy in our hearts, we don't need material wealth. The most loving communities are often the poorest. If our own life is luxurious and wasteful, we can't approach poor people. If we love people, we want to identify with them and share with them." (Vanier, Community and Growth)