Friday, March 3, 2017

For a Real Fast, Sackcloth and Ashes Are Not Enough

God's people thought they were following the rules. They thought they were 'pushing all the right buttons' to access the Divinity. This whole fasting-and-penance thing was, after all, His idea. And yet it didn't seem to be 'working.' God's people didn't get it, so they started to grumble:
"Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?"
(Isaiah 58:3)
Well, the Lord decided to give them an answer, and boy did He ever give it to them: So you think you're fasting and doing so much service to me, and I'm not being 'fair' with you? What's so great about your fasting and penance? That's my gloss of what might be considered an implied rhetorical question to set the context for what the Lord says in answer to His people. In the text of Isaiah 58, He gets right to the point:

"On your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.

"Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!

"Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

"If you remove the yoke from among you,
the accusing finger, and malicious speech;
If you lavish your food on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom shall become like midday;
Then the Lord will guide you always
and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail."

(Isaiah 58:3-11)

This is what God wants first and foremost, every season of the year: that we adhere to Him, trust in Him and walk in His ways, recognize Him and serve Him in the poor and afflicted, and turn away from sin.

If we trust in our own power, we will inevitably resort to violence, and our desperate attempts to hide our injustice behind a few external penitential practices are not going to gain favor with the God of justice.

How much simpler it is to relinquish our own grasping, covetousness, and ambition. If we let our hearts be opened by treating our neighbors with justice and love--as persons who share with us the dignity of being made in the image of God--then we will experience the healing power of the God of mercy.

He will satisfy our thirst in the desert.