Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To LOOSE the bonds of wickedness, to UNDO the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go FREE, and that you BREAK every yoke? Is it not to SHARE your bread with the hungry, and that you BRING to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you CLOTHE him, and BE AVAILABLE to your own people?”
We are in Lent at the moment and one of the spiritual habits most associated with Lent has been fasting. I think I have always regarded FASTING as essentially passive, it means stopping eating certain things, refraining from doing certain activities.
However recently I have been fundamentally challenged in my thinking about fasting by these words from Isaiah 58 where the Lord redefines fasting as not being passive but active, active rather than apathetic to the injustice and need we encounter individually and collectively as God’s people.
A lot of people are talking about what they are fasting from during Lent. Of course that can be a profoundly significant thing to do but what about the fasting we are told should characterise our lives in Isaiah ? How are we going to “fast” in this way? How will we fast from apathy in the face of injustice and need?
Just look at the verbs in these verses and the situations described I am pretty sure that all of us over the 40 days of Lent will encounter people we need to be available to, people we could invite into our homes for meals, people in need of warm winter clothing, oppressed people we could speak up for in some way.
I came across these words from Pope Francis’ Lenten Message from a few years ago that seems to express with clarity what I am thinking about fasting after reading Isaiah’s words
Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.
When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises. One of the most urgent challenges which I would like to address in this Message is precisely the globalization of indifference. Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
What if during the rest of Lent we got serious about fasting from apathy. What if instead of walking past homeless people we donated money or clothes to charities who work with them? What if instead of being apathetic about our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted we supported in some practical way the organisations that support them? What if we stood up for those being bullied at our schools or work places and tried to make life easier for them?