A Mennonite Reflection; Isaiah 58: on Worship and Social Action

Spiritual Disciplines like fasting, prayer and gathering for worship are important ways people connect with God.  But in the Bible, there is a clear connection between practicing spiritual disciplines and performing acts of compassion and justice.

The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 58 offers a powerful rebuke to the people of Israel for not practicing their faith on both fronts:
In verse three, the children of Israel call out to God wondering why God is not responding to them.  “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’   God answers the following, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers.   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.”  Finally God says in verses six and seven, “Is not this 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?”  In verses eight and nine the result for those following God’s suggestion of right action is described.    “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.”

The key verses of this passage reiterate that faithful fasting is made tangible by breaking the bonds of injustice.   They get very close to “home” (literally) when they state that we are to share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our houses, cover the naked, and not hide from relatives.  Our responsibility as faith communities is clear.   The focus in many of our faith communities is often on how we can worship God faithfully.   The answer here is clear that God cannot hear our voices in worship if there is unaddressed injustice we are causing directly, or that we are close enough to do something about.

Could it be that some of us who claim to be worshiping God are trying to address the issue of Homelessness but could be involved in structural injustice that makes us even complicit in the problem?   Whether we are the cause of the problem, or serving our own interest, we are to get right up close in bringing those who are without a home into our houses.  What does that mean for us in our modern society?  It is clear that we need to have real personal connection, perhaps even friendship with those whose housing issues are more complicated than ours.   Bringing someone into our home must mean that they are at least respected as we respect family members.   Does fear make us inactive on this count?   Through our disciplines, God helps us deal with our fears!

Donna Kampen Entz,

Mennonite Church, Alberta


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