Thursday 4th May Hope for a society where the poorest and most marginalised are at the centre (part 2)
Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs 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? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
I’ve never much liked the question ‘Are you religious?’ Yes, I’m a Christian, but the word ‘religion’ conjures up for me a set of rules, draughty buildings, or judgmental piety with little understanding of the ‘real’ world – rather like the empty fasting which Isaiah calls out in today’s reading.
Faith in God should lead to transformation, meaningful action which demonstrates a Kingdom in which the poorest and most marginalised are at the centre. Rather than religious dogma, Christianity is a relationship with the God who loves and made us, where a devotion to Jesus’ way leads to transformation of the world we live in.
On our second day of looking at the Joint Public Issues Team’s hope for a world in which the poorest and most marginalised are at the centre, Isaiah’s prophetic call out of empty religiosity and to real action can inspire us to live our faith by living lives of outward action for God.
Isaiah calls out those whose religion leads them to serve themselves – fasting itself is not the problem, it’s the fact that their fasting does not lead to action. Isaiah calls God’s people to radical action – noticing injustice, responding to it and bringing the kingdom to the oppressed. I’m reminded of the hymn, ‘When I needed a neighbour, were you there?’ by Sydney Carter:
‘I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there? And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter, were you there?’.
Declaring our belief in Jesus means little if those who have been poor and marginalised in this world ask us where we were when they were suffering.
The challenge of Isaiah asks what we can do that will allow God’s light to shine through us. The encouragement from the passage is that God responds when we step out in faith to help people experiencing poverty and marginalisation. His call is always ‘Here I am’, bringing light, healing and restoration to people who have felt lost and forgotten in the darkness.
Loving God, today as we respond to the call to meaningful action, would you direct us towards the places we can make a difference.
Where we have allowed our faith to cool to personal piety, without changing the world around us, would you move us again
to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for captives and release from darkness for prisoners. Amen
Hazel Lee is an intern with the Joint Public Issues Team