they act like a righteous nation

Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Sometimes as I read through scripture, I feel like we ignore some of the more messy bits. We’re often quick to look back and analyze the text and the tone and the style of the passages without listening to them and allowing them to enter our own hearts. I think in many ways, this is one of the most dangerous trends in our modern Christian society – the failure to be introspective and allow the word of God to convict. We are generally so busy looking for how what we’re reading “applies to someone else” that we often miss the message God has for us.

This passage is an excellent example of that. Sometimes I wonder what the prophets would say if they were here, and what the Gospels would sound like if they were written today. I wonder how Jesus would cater his message to us, and whether his harshest words would still be reserved for the religious establishment. I have a feeling in many ways they would be. I wonder if God would come down and look at us today, view our services and say, “Do you really think this will please the Lord?”

God’s response is striking: free those unjustly imprisoned, be a fair employer, stop oppressing people, share your food and possessions, and don’t run away from people who need your help. Often we have very little to say about these types of social issues. We make excuses to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of helping those around us while thinking our worship “at the temple” makes up for other shortcomings.

I wonder what God would say.

Instead of patting ourselves on the back, I feel as though we should each take a hard look at our lives and our actions, both as a church body and as individuals, and evaluate what Christ’s words to us would be, were he here today. If I am honest, I feel as though this passage, and many other similarly humbling ones, apply to me much more than I would like to admit.

One Reply to “they act like a righteous nation”

  1. What’s difficult about this passage is that while you’re the oppressed it brings about great hope, but if you’re the oppressor hope turns into doom. And like you said Jeff, this might apply to us a lot more than we are comfortable with.

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