“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:9-10
I struggle with these verses. They seem rather self-serving: if I feed the hungry or clothe the naked, I will feel better. But it’s more than being called to provide food or shelter, and it’s more than doing so for my own well-being. Some translations from Hebrew to English seem to say that we cannot have a full relationship with God without being in righteous and loving relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. “… and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed ...”.
Upon deeper reflection of Isaiah 58, especially verses 1-12, and reading different versions of the Bible, I came to understand that we are being called to transform ourselves, and by so doing we open the way for a greater transformation: the realization of God’s kingdom.
In January, I was blessed to visit a project in Kenya, called Isaiah 58:10 - Project Kenya, where Lutheran World Relief is partnering with several Lutheran congregations to help farmers learn better farming practices, get more for their crops at market and build new business skills. Their families and children are reaping the benefits. There was a palpable sense that the people in Kenya, the visitors from the congregation and the Lutheran World Relief staff all gained and prospered because each of us gave something of ourselves to one another with love and joy. All gave from our souls and with our hearts because we know and feel God’s endless love, mercy and compassion for us. In doing so, we could more clearly see the Kingdom of God that Isaiah writes about.
The Lord’s message to us through Isaiah is a call to a “new way” of fasting, piety and alms-giving. The new way is to stop pointing fingers, stop speaking in wicked ways and stop oppressing others. We are instead shown the way to loosen the bonds of injustice, to share what we have with love and gratitude from within our souls. These are not one-time actions. If we change our behaviors so that this stewardship becomes our way of life, then the world can be transformed. Our prayers for a world of comfort, light, joy, healing and peace will be answered.
I believe that God has called Lutheran World Relief to work in the world in a way that models this notion of living in relationship with others and therefore with God. It gives all of us — donors, staff, partners and program participants — the chance to choose to offer ourselves to others in the way Isaiah describes.
Do I remember to live in this way even when I see a homeless person in my city and not just a person in need thousands of miles away? Am I looking into her eyes with care and kindness, with an action coming from my heart? How do I limit my own material things so that I have more to share with others and so that I can shine Jesus’ light in the darkness?
No. It doesn’t say a new way of living through fasting … it was specifically saying that the old ways of fasting, piety, etc. had to change and what what we are being called to do is live differently …