Yesterday I began telling you about Lent the only way I know how: with an embarrassing and self deprecating story. Today, on the Friday after Ash Wednesday, we’re going to have a look at the prescribed reading from Isaiah, because I keep running into people who think Lent is their pre-Easter candy diet.
Some of y’all may see yourselves in Isaiah 58:1-5. I know I do when I whine about how badly I’d like a hamburger:
“Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
‘Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?’”
Just today I was telling a fellow parishioner that I’ve eaten half the calories I normally do for TWO WHOLE DAYS and have yet to lose any weight. I’m the worst.
The Lord continues:
“‘Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?’”
In other words, “being right” on social media and the number on the scale are not as important as my relationship with God. God’s response to me is, in essence, “Are you kidding me right now?”
He then says, in verses 6-9a:
“‘This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and 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!’”
Take a second to note that God never says “Depend on the government to take care of people.” He says for YOU to do it. Yes, you. If you’re unused to clearing out your closet, helping at a homeless program, or volunteering at all, Lent is a wonderful time to start. You have so much time now that you’re playing less Words With Friends and not spending twenty minutes trying to figure out what side you want with your burger, or what toppings you want on your pizza.
God is not casting side eye here on fasting. Fasting is a way to show devotion and clear our minds and bodies. He’s not saying that you’re doing something wrong by fasting.
But if Lent has somehow turned into just giving up something and whining about what you gave up, God simply wonders why you can’t find time to pick up your room. He’s a very patient dad, but he has questions. Maybe you have some time to fix your sister a bite to eat, or you can stop hoarding all the toys and give one to your brother. Who can say? (Hint: God can.)
Maybe Lent is about being a better child of the Creator and sibling to your fellow humans. It certainly can’t hurt, right?