The Right Kind of Fasting (Isaiah 58:6-14)
What a colorful hustle and bustle on this painting! If you look more closely, you can discover seven smaller scenes that belong together. Each one shows a work of mercy, similar to those listed here in Isaiah and later in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25:34-46). Instead of torturing themselves with strict food prohibitions while fasting, people should rather feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter strangers, visit the sick, free prisoners and bury the dead. Only when fasting helps to open up to others and benefits others is it a good fast and finds favor with God. The seven works of mercy are not that hard to find in the picture. You just have to search a little, like in any hidden object picture …
Brueghel, Pieter the Younger (1564-1638), The Seven Works of Mercy, 1616-1638, oil on wood, 43.3 x 57 cm, Ulm, Museum der Brotkultur
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to let the oppressed go free?
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 vindicatorshall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”
The Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
then you shall take delight in the Lord.
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Chapters 58-59 point out: YHWH is ready to come to Zion, but only for those who are willing to repent. Those who think they have been righteous for a long time must also repent. It is against them that the accusations are directed in chapter 58, which deals with the question of social responsibility in fasting and the Sabbath commandment. The chapter asks how people must live in order to rebuild the torn community in Jerusalem. Does self-mortification in fasting benefit? Doesn’t keeping the Sabbath bring economic disadvantages? Isaiah makes it clear: Only when rigid attitudes toward religious practice are broken can the divine light shine over Jerusalem (Berges 2016, 201f.).
New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition (NRSVUE) © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.