For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
One summer morning when my children were small, I remember telling them that their rooms needed to be cleaned by the time I got done with work for the day. Nothing should be on the floor so I could vacuum easily when they were done. They could have all day to do it, but it needed to be done by the end of the day. One of my kids got right to work and reported the task done in five minutes flat. A record time! I was skeptical but upon initial examination it actually didn’t look too bad. A couple days later as I was changing sheets on their beds I discovered how my sweet child had finished so quickly! Any wrapper, stray sock, or item they didn’t really want to put away or throw away was stuffed between the mattresses. Hidden away safely from mom’s eyesight…or so they thought. In the moment it had appeared that my child had wanted to eagerly obey my direction …but they had missed the spirit of it. Sure I could vacuum…nothing was on the floor. But my intent was for them to learn to take care of the things they had…not to obey the letter of the law, so to speak.
It sounds a bit like what was happening in our passage for today. The people were seemingly doing what was required of them, but completely missing the spirit of why they were doing it. Isaiah used their fasting as an example. They would fast and appear to seek God but then turn around and mistreat their workers and each other, rendering their fasting empty and useless.
Isaiah’s advice, in short, is to examine their actions and to spend themselves on the behalf of others…those whom they were overlooking and oppressing. It is good advice for us today, too. We may not like to admit it but we too can get caught up in doing what we think are the right things when it comes to our faith. We don’t mean to, but it can become like checking items off a check-list…read my Bible – check, pray – check, sing songs – check. Obedience is a good thing but if we aren’t careful we can completely miss the spirit of why we do those things and we won’t embody the heart change those things are really supposed to create in us. We are a people called to live and love like Jesus in every way to everyone.
I love the idea of “spending” ourselves for the benefit of others as our passage suggests. It brings to my mind the effort of using all that I have and all that I hold dear – exhausting all that I am so that the message of Christ is seen and felt in all that I do. Let’s ask God to help us not just stay in our lane this week but to actively seek to know God’s heart and do His will so that none should be overlooked when it comes to extending His love.
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