Do you know where we get our word “fast” from? I mean “fast” in the sense of going without something, particularly food, for a period of time for a specific purpose. It comes to us from the Old English word, “fæst”, and it meant “fixed, firm, secure; constant, steadfast; stiff, heavy, dense; obstinate, bound, costive; enclosed, closed, watertight; strong, fortified.” Our religious use of “fast” in English comes from this idea of firmness, constancy, and duty. When we “fast,” we are firmly focusing on something important, setting aside our natural human needs and desires for the sake of what we deem to be of higher importance, and we remain focused on that thing, fast.
This is important for us to know as we enter into this period of Lent, in which we provide for the poor, we pray, and we “fast.” We are denying ourselves some good thing – whatever that might be – or, perhaps, a bad thing – in order to hold ourselves “fast” to the greater importance of God’s call to us to be like Jesus.
We see this “fastness” illustrated in Christ’s time in the desert before embarking on His mission and ministry. In the desert, He fasted – “eating nothing during those [forty] days” – and at the end of those days he was hungry– a natural effect of fasting. Now, forty days is a truly heroic length of time to eat nothing, and I do not recommend it; but Jesus is Jesus, so I will let Him do as He pleases. However, in His hunger, in the midst of His fasting, He is tempted.
The devil, assuming His weakness – and, perhaps, unsure and curious about who Jesus really is – hits Jesus with a series of temptations – things that you and I have probably felt in some way ourselves. First, the devil takes the easy route: after forty days, Jesus certainly needed some food; so, Satan tries to get Him to perform a miracle in his presence and provide some bread for His rumbling stomach. However, Christ remains “fast,” and denies the devil his fun. He is firmly focused on His relationship with God and God’s love and care for Him. Jesus, 1; devil, 0.
Next, the devil tempts Jesus with power and glory. If He would just give Satan some attention and worship, Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the earth. He could be a true King on earth, and Academy Award-winning actor, a four-time Super Bowl MVP – if He just took attention away from God and placed it in the realm of the earthly and even demonic. Have we ever wanted something so bad, and wanted to take the easy way, that we have done anything to have it? That is the temptation that Jesus is getting here. However, Jesus holds “fast” to God and His promises to Him – to His call and His mission. Jesus, 2; devil, 0.
Finally, the devil tries to get Jesus to show off and to test God’s love for Him. “If God really cares about you, then nothing can hurt you – not even falling from this height.” In our lives, sometimes we think that faith and trust in God means that everything will be easy – or, at least, things we go how we want them to go. This is not trust in God; instead, it is actually a test of God. And Jesus knows that this is not how we should be relating to the Father. Again, He remains “steadfast,” and stays focused on what the Father is calling Him to do. Game over. Jesus, 3; devil, 0.
This is the struggle that we are all entering. Lent is a spiritual journey with a definite goal. We are all aimed at Easter, and we should always remember that. This calls us to focus our efforts so that we can hold “fast” to the promise of resurrection that we have all received through our Baptism. As Paul tells us, “One believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Our hearts need to be set on God always – knowing that Jesus has won a victory over the devil for us. Remembering the good things that God has accomplished in history, and in our own lives, we can stay firm to our promises to live lives of holiness and attachment to Christ. This is the purpose of Lent – the purpose of our “fasts.”
Jesus was stubborn about His relationship with God; we, too, need to be stubborn about our relationship with Him. It is our Christian duty to hold “fast” to that One who has won this victory, because through Him that victory is ours.