Bible Workbench: Epiphany 5: February 6, 2011

Text: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

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.

It is sometimes hard to know what someone has in mind when they talk about fasting during Lent or on Fridays or before a blood test, as part of a diet or preparation for a sports event. But Isaiah is rather clear. Fasting for the prophet is not so much about giving up as taking on—labors of justice and liberation, of caring and compassion. The text makes it almost sound like a quid pro quo. It sounds like when one fasts as Isaiah prescribes that the result is light, healing and vindication. If you fast in this way you will discover that when you call for help the Lord will be there. Don’t be offended and just write it off! Test it from your experience. What has followed when you have fasted in this way? How has loosing bonds and breaking yokes, sharing bread and clothing the naked made a difference in your relationship with God, the world, and even with yourself? How is your sense of the Holy and of your Self altered when you fast as compassion rather than simply denial?

– Bill Dols


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