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(Part 11)


March 7, 2014
Today’s reading: Isaiah 58:1-9

We are God’s servants. When God calls, we should say, “Here I am.” But amazingly, there is an instance when these will be God’s words, in response to our call. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here I am!’” (v.9a).

What will occasion this astounding turn of events? It is when we live out justice and mercy in relation to the poor. Justice is “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke” (v.6b). Mercy is “sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them” (v.7a). Justice and mercy is ministering to the least, the lost, the last. It is loving and caring for those who are unjustly treated, oppressed, afflicted. It is looking to provide food, clothing and shelter to the poor. It is working at human liberation.

This is authentic fasting. God says, “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose” (v.6a)? This was in contrast to the hypocritical fasting of the people. But notice that the people were trying to be righteous. “They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, .... they desire to draw near to God.” (v.2). Now here they were fasting, acting “to bow one’s head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes” (v.5b). But God was not impressed. “Why do we fast, but you do not see it? afflict ourselves, but you take no note?” (v.3a).

The answer was simple. “See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. See, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist!” (3b-4a). They were fasting but they went selfishly about their own concerns, they oppressed their laborers, they fought with each other, they inflicted harm on others. They were going through the formality of fasting, but they were transgressing and sinning. They were selfish, unjust and unloving.

Is that not like many Catholics? Going to Mass on Sunday and receiving communion, but the rest of the week are doing things contrary to God’s ways. Worshiping God in an assembly, but being selfish with time, talent and treasure. Proclaiming the gospel to others, but not being a living witness to that same gospel. Praying at the start of the day, but then doing unrighteous acts at the workplace. Serving in community, but engaging in gossip and maligning of others. Fasting during Lent, but not sharing unselfishly with the poor.

How then can God hear us? How then can God help us? “Do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high!” (v.4b). But if we engage in authentic fasting, if we practice justice and mercy, if we do sincere work with the poor, not only will God be there at our “beck and call,” but we will be greatly blessed, especially as we go about doing God’s work. We are called to be light to the world; “then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (v.8a). We can expect to be bruised and bloodied as we engage in spiritual warfare; but “your wound shall quickly be healed” (v.8b). We will be oppressed, mocked, maligned and persecuted; but “your vindication shall go before you” (v.8c). We will face many challenges and sacrifices as we plod along the path God has given us; but “the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (v.8d).

This Lent, let us then rigorously examine ourselves. “Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (v.5c).

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