“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
“Don’t be mopey.”
My wife and I have told our kids many times throughout the years, “Don’t be mopey.”
You know what makes them mopey? When we scold them, correct them, or punish them. Don’t get me wrong; they’re good kids. But they’re still kids. They’re still human. So, we still reprimand them from time to time.
And how do they often react when we do? They’re mopey.
They come by it honestly. I get mopey too. It’s human nature, sinful human nature, that is. Even when we acknowledge our sins, it’s natural for us to beat our breast and loathe ourselves. How could God—how could anyone—love a wretch like me?
The truth is, so often when we behave that way, it’s simply an expression of self-pity, not Christian repentance. Much as we’d like to send the message to others that we don’t like ourselves, self-pity is a classic sign of self-love. We can’t believe that others don’t love us as much as we love ourselves.
And it shows on our faces. It might fool Mom and Dad. We might even fool ourselves. But it doesn’t fool Jesus.
Yes, our Savior desires from us honest remorse over sin. “A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). But what does a faithful believer’s heart, broken by sin, look like on the outside? Not like a mopey face! Jesus says that’s what a hypocrite’s face looks like. “They disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.”
What should a Christian’s face display instead? Joy. No, not in-your-face, I-don’t-care-if-I-hurt-you joy, but joyful repentance that lives in the faith and hope and knowledge of God’s perfect forgiveness in Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Ash Wednesday is the historic beginning of the season of Lent, a traditional season for fasting in the Christian church. Some people receive ashes on this day. They’re normally rubbed on your forehead. That tradition is neither right nor wrong, of course. It has a significance, but it’s only a tradition. Nothing more.
But isn’t it interesting that Jesus suggests a different rub? He says that “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen.” Not Ash Wednesday. Face Wash Wednesday.
What’s Jesus’ point? He’s teaching us that fasting and repentance—and all those traditions often associated with Lent—don’t require us to be mopey. Just the opposite. Christian repentance brings us joy through freedom from sin and guilt. It doesn’t end with us beating our breast or smudging ashes on our foreheads. It brings a smile to our face, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is. Because of what Jesus has made us.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 10, Number 2
Issue: February 2021