After His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by the devil for forty days and nights. The first temptation concerned food. Jesus was the new Adam, facing a food test not in a garden but in the wilderness. Jesus was the new Israel, hungering in the desert but refusing to grumble or distrust His Father.
Satan tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread, but Jesus answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy, where Moses explained the reason for Israel’s hunger in the wilderness: Yahweh caused Israel “to humble you and to test you.” For Moses and Jesus, hunger is a teacher. Hunger teaches dependence. Hunger teaches us that we have no life in ourselves, and need life from outside. By teaching dependence, hunger teaches humility.
Today the Western church enters the Christian season of Lent, and Jesus’ fast in the wilderness is a model for Lent. Lent is a season of preparation for Easter, a forty-day fast in anticipation of the feast. Lent is the season of hunger.
We know from the Pharisees’ example that fasting can become an occasion for pride, but observing Lent with pride is a contradiction. Lent is a season of hunger, and is designed to teach us the lesson of hunger, which is the lesson of humility.
Jesus teaches another lesson of fasting and hunger in the Sermon on the Mount. David fasted and prayed for his son to be saved, but when the boy died he stopped fasting rose from the dust, washing, anointed himself, changed his clothes, worshiped and ate. Jesus us to fast with washed faces, heads anointed, and bright clothes.
Jesus teaches His disciples that we are to fast with all the accoutrements of feasting.
Jesus wants us to act out a continual feast. Jesus wants us to dress for a feast when we are fasting, and dress for a feast when we are feasting, and dress for a feast for every occasion in between. Not surprising for a Savior who came eating and drinking, a Savior who ate with sinners and still eats with sinners each week.
We are capable of this continuous feast only if we practice the humility that feasting embodies. We feast because we wear Jesus as our festal clothing. His Spirit is the oil that anoints our head, and He gives the baptismal water that washes our faces. Fasting or feasting, we have this anointing and this washing. Fasting or feasting, we wear Jesus, our festal robe.