Friday after Ash Wednesday – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 58:1-9

A magnificent and, in many ways, a frightening passage from Isaiah. It points to where true religion is to be found.

We have here a wonderful prophetic call in the spirit of those great prophets who lived in the post-Exile period. The call is for an inward spirit to match outward observance. It is a call that pervades Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel, and is found touched on in today’s Gospel.

Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Big feasts and the beginning of fasts were proclaimed by a trumpet. At Mount Sinai, God’s voice is compared to a trumpet blast. Actually, only one day, the Day of Atonement, was prescribed for fasting, but there could be other days to commemorate some national disaster. Today our Ash Wednesday fills a similar role, a day when many of our churches are packed.

The people are asking God to come near. They are calling out for just laws. They want to have their fasting and their penances noticed by God. On the surface, they seem to be so religious, so pious and docile, but all the while they are neglecting to do what God really wants. They ask plaintively:

Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?

God, through the voice of his prophet Isaiah, gives them a powerful response, one they hardly expected. Instead of praise, they get condemnation.

Yes, they fast all right, but at the same time they “serve [their] own interest”. They do business on their holy days and oppress their workers. They fast, but at the same time quarrel and squabble and physically abuse the poor.

Is this what God wants? Is this real fasting and penance…looking miserable?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Is it all these very pious acts that God cherishes and wants?

The kind of fast that the Lord wants is something altogether different. It is:

…to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go 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…

These words were written thousands of years ago. Yet they still apply fully in our enlightened age. They contain a proclamation that will be repeated by Jesus both in his words and actions. It is by doing these things that we will really be in the spirit of Lent. It is a lot more than keeping the fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or giving up things like sweets or smoking.

What is really important is to reach out in love and compassion to those in need, and to treat every single person with respect and dignity.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly…

What “healing”? The healing of the wound of our sinfulness, our lack of love and sense of responsibility. The wound of our hypocrisy and false religion.

After doing all that, when we cry out to the Lord, he will answer:

Here I am.

Yes, he is with us when, in the midst of pain and misery, we reach out to him. He does not need for us to “lie in sackcloth and ashes”.

How do I think God sees me during this Lenten season? What am I doing in response to God’s call to come to the help of my brothers and sisters?

Comments Off on Friday after Ash Wednesday – First Reading

Printed from LivingSpace - part of Sacred Space
Copyright © 2024 Sacred Space :: :: All rights reserved.