When you fast do not put on a sad face like the play-actors, for they disfigure their faces so that people will see them fasting. Amen, I tell you, they have received their wages. But when you fast, anoint your head and face with oil, so that your fasting may not be apparent to people but only to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in the secret place, will pay you back.

Just as in his prayer Jesus uses the commercial language of debt, so throughout his sermon he uses the commercial language of wage-labour. By these devices he turns the vocabulary of human burdens into a language of liberation.

Probably the “source” of Jesus’ teaching that Matthew used was already in Greek, but at some stage in the development of this tradition, someone had to translate Jesus’ words from Aramaic into Greek. When I am translating from Greek into English I have a fellow-feeling with that person, as I try to find the right words for the passionate and witty wisdom of Jesus.

Having been part of ecclesiastical processions at one time and another, I can imagine the long faces of the play-acting Pharisees, designed to impress the onlookers. Jesus does not elaborate, but he may have mimed his critique. Fasting was an optional religious duty amongst Jesus’ contemporaries, intended not to denigrate eating and drinking but to forego a God-given resource as a way of showing you valued it as a gift. Jesus neither commands it nor rejects it but sees it a part of a secret discipline which honours the God who is present in the “secret place.” Those who love God know that they meet the beloved in secret and that, like the intimacies of human love, what they do is not for public consumption.

Indeed, sincerity has its own playacting; be brisk and cheerful when fasting, Jesus commands, so that your commerce with God is invisible.

Again here, Jesus emphasises that God responds to human giving; he pays a good wage.(in secret)

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