Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like rushes, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, 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.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)
My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn (R./)
Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
The audience was very angry when Isaiah accused them of rebelling against God. They saw themselves as devout Jews, faithful to tradition. But this uncompromising prophet replied that even if they fasted for religious purposes, they were still unworried about oppressing their workers. The traditions they practiced were not really what God required. Their rituals had become merely a traditional activity with no moral benefit. Even on their fasting-days, they ended up arguing, self-righteous and disunited. Today, we too can fall into this syndrome, putting questions of ritual, etiquette and procedure on a higher pedestal than they deserve, while leaving the substance of charity (i.e. loving service, as prescribed by Jesus, the washer of feet) on the back burner.
The ideal of “walking-with-God” is not fulfilled by attending in church one day a week. We become so wrapped up in our own concerns, we hardly have time for conversing with God our Maker. But spurred on by the prophet Isaiah, we clearly that God is offering us a special blessing in this season of Lent. The fasting God prescribes wants from us this Lent is to clothe the naked, to right some injustice, to feed the hungry and to advocate for those who have no home. We need to think and pray about loving our neighbour as ourselves. As always, the living Word is here to help and guide us.
We normally link fasting with reducing our intake of food. But Isaiah defined fasting in a new way. We need to identify and reduce the things that damage and oppress other people promote justice on behalf of those in need. Genuine fasting cannot be separated from another classic Jewish ideal: almsgiving, or sharing our resources with others.
Ash Wednesday recommends the three great Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Isaiah reminds us that all three stand or fall together. They are three pillars of a worthy life. . Fasting is saying “no” to something. Isaiah reminds us that such saying “no” is with a view to saying “YES” to a greater service of our neighbour. Any service done in love is very acceptable to God and gives substance to anything else we may do for Lent.