Isaiah 58:1-12 Suggestion: Read it out loud!
The Lord says, “Shout as loud as you can! Tell my people Israel about their sins! They worship me every day, claiming that they are eager to know my ways and obey my laws. They say they want me to give them just laws and that they take pleasure in worshiping me.” The people ask, “Why should we fast if the Lord never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?”
The Lord says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that?
“The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.
“Then my favour will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.
“If you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to every evil word; if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon. And I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry. Your people will rebuild what has long been in ruins, building again on the old foundations. You will be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored the ruined houses.”
“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.
“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
What a treat we have this week in the Revised Common Lectionary! All the readings speak together. Such a human story of ‘what we say’ and ‘what we do’ not always correlating. All neatly brought together by Jesus – salty justice, shining light. I do recommend you read the Isaiah reading out loud, as it should be done. It gives great perspective! Such fun.
Just like many a family conversation, we hear the truth in the midst of opposing perspectives. They SAY but do not do, accompanied by “Why do we have to do THAT? I don’t want to”. Does that sound familiar? Usually accompanied by our human whine, it is a common standpoint across all ages, and all echelons in life. God’s salient truth-telling to grumpy, even violent, people, followed by a zinger of a question – “Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers?”
How awful it is, that even our religious practices become tainted by selfishness. God’s clarity illuminates just actions – deprivation of our own food or comfort, does not equate to the devestation of sustained oppression and burden of injustice. One inconveniences self; the other affects the health and wellbeing of all humanity and creation. Every gesture matters. Lifting the bondage of oppression and the entrapment of injustice, builds a satisfying foundation for a vibrant healthy community, in a flourishing garden of plenty, for all creation to enjoy. Worth shining a light on, so God’s Light shines brightly. Indeed, living a prayer every day. Thanks be to God.
Jesus draws our focus to an even deeper, pertinent daily reminder. The flavour of justice is salty. Let it flavour your days. The opportunities arise before us, and it is then that we are called to act, with just and inclusive, generous love and welcoming hospitality. Like salt that heals, protects, preserves and flavours, loving justice will flavour our days, and the warming light shining in our lives will draw others along with the Way of Christ.
With the voices across the eons, adapted from Psalm 112
Gentle God, your words remind us again…
Happy is the person who honours the Lord,
who takes pleasure in obeying God’s commands.
Light shines in the darkness for good people,
for those who are merciful, kind, and just.
Happy is the person who is generous and honest.
Good people will never fail and always be remembered.
So do not be afraid of receiving bad news,
and set worry and fear aside.
Let your faith and trust in the Lord be strong.
Give generously to the needy,
and let your kindness never fail.
Irritating as it may be to greedy, selfish and unjust people,
The light of love will bring hope and health to all whom you meet.
May your just acts be as often as you taste your daily salt.
May you heal, protect, preserve what is just,
and flavour your life with the love of Jesus,
and see more clearly in the shining light of God’s Way.
May it be so…