In a contest of people who “tell it like it is,” the Prophet Isaiah would always (it seems to me) win hands down! The words “fast and abstinence” had great meaning when I was a child who always knew that there were rules about eating during Lent. We understood that our two smaller meals – usually breakfast and lunch – could not equal, or at least not be larger when put together, than our main meal and we worked hard at making sure of that. And there was also the question of dessert…when to have it and when to pass it up. This was serious business and whether we knew Isaiah or not, we knew that God meant business.
I doubt we ever heard the scathing criticism in Chapter 58 of Isaiah’s prophecy that we read today. He speaks for God in his estimation of the people’s fasting, saying: Lo, 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. …Is this the manner of fasting I wish? Had we been truly awake when we heard the next part, we might have wondered if God was speaking to us or if it was some mean taskmaster! But listen and see if you can find yourself in this kind of attitude and action. Did we ever wonder whether the practice of controlling our eating had anything to do with our consciousness during the rest the rest of our day?
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…
Things seem much more dire now when there are so many hungry and poor people in our midst, more homeless and oppressed people…What do we do for them? Do we notice? How do we help? How is it that our light can shine in response to such great need? All God asks is our best. What is that for you?