A reflection on Isaiah 58:1-12 for Davidson College Presbyterian Church’s Lenten devotional book; Cornelius, NC, January 2017.

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{Canvas and acrylic paint.}

These verses from Isaiah center around the dos and don’ts of fasting. And surprise surprise — the people have been doing it wrong. Among the instructions on how to fast, one phrase in particular stood out. The New Revised Standard Version says “not to hide yourself from your own kin” the New International Version suggests “not to turn away from your own flesh and blood” (v. 7).  Don’t turn away from your family. Your neighbors. Your fellow humans. So on either side of this image is a person who’s decided to show up. To not turn away. Something I hope we can all aim to do too, whatever that looks like for each of us.

Instead of focusing on things Isaiah says the people are doing wrong in their spiritual practices, this image aims for hope. The “what if?” alternative to the way things seem to be going right now. Like I’ve said, maybe such hope is a little naive, but here we are nonetheless. Fast the proper way, Isaiah preaches — glorify God by caring for others, and “your light shall break forth like the dawn” (v. 8). “Your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (v. 10). Instead of exploiting workers, loose the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free. Share your bread with the hungry and provide shelter for poor wanderers. See those who need clothes. And when you do those things…

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. (NIV)

How will we turn toward God and our fellow humans today?