By Steven Norris
Isaiah. Now, there’s a prophet for our day. A man who spoke to a people on the brink of destruction. A man whose call echoed through the wilderness to a people marching headlong toward their own demise. A man who wasn’t afraid to mince words and wasn’t afraid to hold up a mirror to the people so that they could see themselves in painful relief against the righteous call of God.
We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. This is no time for superficial demonstrations of religious piety. This is no time for pointing fingers at others while failing to take a long hard look in the mirror to see our own hearts.
Fasting was one of the ways in scripture that the people could respond to national disaster and turmoil. And I can think of no better words than Isaiah’s vision of the substance of a true fast for us in these days:
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Let it be, Lord. Give us ears to hear. Give us courage to act.