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 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 upon the worship of 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. These also include listening to sermons or lectures from our teachers.
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.
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, ones consciousness is polluted with greed, and this clouds our ability to see the Supreme Being.
But when ones consciousness becomes focused upon the Supreme Being, and ones innate loving relationship with the Supreme Being becomes awakened, the pollution of greed and self-centeredness - and bodily identification - clears up. This opens ones spiritual eyes: The eyes of love.
How does one re-focus ones consciousness upon the Supreme Being and become cleansed of greed and self-centeredness? Through personal worship of the Supreme Being. Through dedication to the Supreme Being. This means practical steps such as making offerings to Him and glorifying His Holy Names.
Jesus' message here is an emphasis on establishing our own personal relationship with God. 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.
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.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)