Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed to 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? Isaiah 58:6-7
Fasting and Lent go together like hand and glove. There are rules for fasting in some traditions, while other churches encourage fasting but let folks choose their own way of doing it. What is similar across the board is that fasting is not to be an attention gatherer but is for spiritual growth. Thus money saved on food not eaten is given to charity; time saved in not watching TV is devoted to prayer and Bible reading, and so on. Another thing is also clear: one does not fast on Sunday. Sunday is always observed as a little Easter, and as one noted theologian, St. Augustine once said, “It is an abomination to fast on the Lord’s Day.”
A modern take on fasting is to take something on for Lent, such as donating time to various charitable organizations, or even taking time to spend with the family, if one normally is overly busy at work.
I really don’t think God cares what we do or don’t do in regard to fasting when it comes to not eating meat or chocolate. But God does expect us to fast in another way: taking care of those who need our support.
The people of Isaiah’s time (this is the third Isaiah, prophesying after the return from Babylon) were so like our modern western world that it is uncanny. Their big concern was accumulating wealth, be it materially or wealth of fame or power. If going to Temple, fasting, and keeping other religious customs furthered their cause, they were in whole hog. All in, that is, except for their heart. And that was the rub.
You see, God wants the heart—all of it. We saw in our look at Luke 6 several weeks ago, that Jesus knocked the props out from under us, leaving only one,—Jesus. And when our hearts are wholly after Jesus, our lives will follow suit. And what will that look like?
Well, there will be prayer, scripture study, and worship, that is a given. But surprisingly, that won’t take up all that much time (we are to pray without ceasing, says St. Paul, which implies our lives become living prayers). What will take up our time and our concerns will be—wait for it—the needs of others, especially those who are poor, disadvantaged, voiceless, powerless. Over and over and over again, God thunders through the prophets, this message: care for the lowly.
Jesus came to turn the world upside down, according to Luke’s two works. To raise up the lowly, give sight to the blind, free the bound, feed the hungry, while at the same time bringing down the powerful. If that was Jesus’ work, what do you suppose ours should be?
When our hearts and lives are given over wholly to God, we will naturally begin to think about the powerless and work on their behalf. It, like Lent and fasting, goes hand and glove.
The fast that God wants isn’t giving up desserts for Lent. Rather, it is living each and every day caring about, loving, and serving those in need, regardless who, what, when, where, or why.