The Rejected Fast
By Brandon Brown
Note: This is a crossposting of our weekly Lenten devotional at my local church.
We have begun our journey through Lent this week as we received ashes. We often think of fasting during Lent; you may have given something up for this Lenten season yourself. In our passage for this week, Isaiah's conversation with God shows that fasting is rejected because of the attitudes and actions of Israel. In fact, the beginning refrains of Isaiah 58:1-12 are a litany of accusations against the people of God and how they have been treating others. The people fast but are oppressing the poor, being selfish, and not fasting for change or repentance. Instead, the fast gives the appearance of righteousness. But Isaiah is having none of that and condemns the people and says God doesn't even see their fast. Isaiah, like most prophets, is engaging in hyperbole, but God rejects the fast not driven by true righteousness.
Instead, Isaiah tells us, beginning in verse six, what kind of fast God desires:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the straps 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.” (Isaiah 58:6-9 NRSVue)
Rather than a fast of personal piety, Isaiah says that God desires the fast that allows us to overturn injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the unhoused, and clothe the naked. This is a message of Lent as well. What are those things we can focus upon that allow us to help the people on the margins and become more like Jesus? We can also seek opportunities to work for social justice and overturn those systems which harm human beings. Can our fast lead us to help others and give us room to do as our denomination calls us by doing the work of reconciliation and repentance? I believe it can and that is my prayer for us this Lenten season. May we be a people so shaped by Jesus that our desire is the reconciliation of all into the family of God.