“When you fast, do not look somber ..." (Matthew 6:16-17)

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, 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 men that you hare fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-17)

Devotional fasting versus secular fasting

Jesus is describing within this statement the acknowledgment that devotional fasting is pleasing to the Supreme Being. He is also describing how it can be misused and twisted for self-centered purposes.

A devotional fast relates to fasting on holy days commemorating the Supreme Being and His representatives. While religious holidays like the birth dates of saints and periodic dates of the ceremony have become feasting days to secular society, fasting for devotional reasons has a long tradition in every religious teaching. This teaching goes back as far as Abraham and Moses.

Devotional fasting contrasts greatly to secular fasting, in that a devotional fast is done to please the Supreme Being and as a personal sacrifice of loving service. One of the main benefits - and purposes - of devotional fasting is that it allows the person to focus their attention on the Supreme Being.

A devotional fast is accompanied by devotional acts that are otherwise pleasing to God as well. These include the praising of God's Holy Names and glories. These also include scriptural study and discussions that praise and acknowledge Him.

The secular fast - discussed by Jesus "as the hypocrites do" - is done to display to others how austere we are. For some, the fast may also be about being healthy or losing weight. In both of these instances, as Jesus indicates here, the reward is given immediately: "I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." How so?

The benefit Jesus indicates relates to the respect or admiration of others obtained through fasting. As soon as we proudly display to others or tell others we are fasting, we have earned our reward immediately by gaining that person’s respect, admiration or attention.

Even the intent of fasting to impress others - so that we can be accepted by others - gives us this immediate benefit - while we lose the benefit that might have been gained spiritually.

If our purpose is to impress or be accepted by others, we have effectively missed the opportunity to please the Supreme Being with that activity. This is because we have turned it into a self-centered activity.

Self-centered activities - done to please ourselves - are diametrically opposed to devotional activities done to please the Supreme Being.

God's existence beyond this world

Another lesson of Jesus' statement is that Jesus is acknowledging the Supreme Being's existence beyond the physical world. Jesus says God is “unseen.” What does this mean?

This doesn’t necessarily mean that God cannot be seen, but that He is unseen by the physical eyes, and unseen by those whose focus is upon themselves: self-centeredness.

Just consider the meaning of focus. When a camera is focused upon a certain image, it can capture that image. But when capturing that image, it is not focused upon other images and thus misses those. For example if the lens is focused upon something far in the distance, it won't be capturing something right under the camera.

Seeing the Supreme Being has a similar context in that one cannot see the Supreme Being when we are focused upon ourselves and the enjoyment of this temporary physical body. In this state, one's consciousness is polluted with greed, and this clouds our ability to see the Supreme Being.

But when our consciousness becomes focused upon the Supreme Being, and our innate loving relationship with the Supreme Being becomes awakened, the pollution of greed and self-centeredness - and bodily identification - clears up. This opens our spiritual eyes:

The eyes of love

These are our true eyes. Real vision takes place from the heart. Through one's consciousness. This is where understanding takes place, and it is through understanding that we actually see - or perceive.

The only way to see God - and see others as they really are - is with the eyes of love.

One may look through the eyes at someone's body but never actually see them. This is because they are not seeing with their consciousness. They are not seeing through the eyes of love and understanding.

Jesus' message here emphasizing seeing with the heart as opposed to just the eyes. Jesus is speaking about establishing our personal relationship with God, and loving each other. The fact that he says the Supreme Being “sees what is done in secret,” indicates activities done solely to please the Supreme Being and not to impress or please others.

How does a person begin to truly see then? It begins with focus one's consciousness upon the Supreme Being. Through personal worship of the Supreme Being and dedication to the Supreme Being. This means practical steps such as making offerings to Him and glorifying His Holy Names.

This is the nature of our original existence. Every one of us was created to exchange a direct, unique and personal relationship with the Supreme Being. We each thus has our own unique relationship with Him. God wants us to revive that personal relationship with Him. This is the intention of Jesus’ teachings.