“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:6-7)
Some people take an awfully simplistic approach to the season of Lent. They think the rules to Lent are basic: “give something up.”
Do you remember those days when you were young and were first learning about Lent?
I sure do.
I remember telling my mom and dad, with utter confidence, “I’m giving up peas.”
I am sure you probably know why: Because I absolutely hated peas!
I figured, “If you have to give up something, it might as well be something that you don’t like.”
Well, I found out rather quickly that would not be acceptable. I had to give up something I liked. How about chocolate? NOOOOOO!
The challenge issued to God’s people by Isaiah the prophet was very much along those lines.
They were a people who believed, by and large, that they could do things to engineer favor from God. If they sacrificed correctly, if their sacrifice was better, nicer, bigger, newer than anyone else’s, they would receive reward from God.
Isaiah told them that they could not stay on the surface in their relationship with God, they had to go deeper, much deeper.
So do we.
Lent is very safe for us when we think about the things we “give up”, even if some of them are wonderful favorites. We know that, at Easter, we can have those things again.
Lent is very difficult for us, however, when we accept the deeper message, when we agree not only to “give up” but to accomplish some positive good. Just as God is pleased with “setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own,” God will be pleased with us if we volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, visit the sick or the shut in, donate items and our time to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, seek out someone we have wronged and ask forgiveness, forgive someone who has hurt us, or speak to someone with whom we may have become estranged.
FAITH ACTION: Are there people we have shut out of our lives? Are there grudges we are harboring? Are we afraid to volunteer our time at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or to visit the sick or shut in? Identify one thing, one person, and right the wrong: bring someone back into your life, drop the grudge, reach out to the people you shun. Remember, God is in each and every one of them!