Fasting For God or For Me?

Today’s reading comes from IS 58:1-9A

Fasting is an ancient discipline, and one that Israel took up order to show YHWH their faithfulness.  But this passage gives us a glimpse of the hypocritical attitude that the Israelites had when it came to fasting.  They supposedly fasted for YHWH, but they were unhappy when He took no notice of their fasting – an act, instead of offering as a gift, they considered a mighty service they were providing the Divine.  They charged YHWH with impartiality when He found no pleasure in their fasting.

Isaiah does not mince his words here.  They afflicted themselves but sought no relieve for those who were afflicted.  They fasted in order to provide an external image of discipline and love for YHWH, but their interiority was filled with disorder and chaos.  Yes, they performed the right “acts”, but they persisted in their sins.  They demanded forgiveness by YHWH, and yet provided no forgiveness of their own to others.  They fasted in order to accuse others of not fasting, rather than fasting for themselves.  This was their hypocrisy and YHWH hated it: “You cannot fast as you do today, and expect your voices to be heard from on high.”

And so Isaiah’s words here should provide us with a good measure for our own Lenten practices.  Why are we doing the things that we are doing?  Or why are we giving up the things that we are giving up?  Is it so that we can change, or is it so that others may take notice?  Are we doing it for the sake of growth in our own relationship with the Lord, or is it for our own benefit?  This is a matter between each person and God, and God is one who knows the depths of every heart so let us pray that when the Lord finds our hearts that he may be pleased with our fasting and prayer.

Happy Friday after Ash Wednesday, friends.

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