Orthodox Mission – Hyde Park, Chicago

Wednesday of Palm Week, meditation on Isaiah 58: 1-11


Thus says the Lord: Cry aloud, and spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet, and declare to my people their sins, and to the house of Jacob their iniquities. Day by day they seek me, and desire to know my ways; like a people that had done justice, and had not abandoned the judgment of their God, they now ask me for righteous judgment, and desire to draw near to God, saying, Why have we fasted, and you did not see? Humbled our souls, and you did not know? Because, in the days of your fasts you find your wishes, and all those under your power you goad. If you fast for quarrels and fights, and smite the humble with your fists, why do you fast for me as you do today, for your voice to be heard be heard in your cry? I did not choose this fast, nor a day for a person to humble their soul. Even if you bend down your neck like a ring, and spread under you sackcloth and ashes, you shall not because of this call it an acceptable fast. I did not choose such a fast, says the Lord. But untie every bond of iniquity, unfasten the knots of hard bargains, send the bruised away with remission, and cancel every unjust account. Break your bread for the hungry, and lead the poor who have no shelter into your house: if you see someone naked, clothe them, and you are not to disregard the relations of your own seed. Then your light will break forth as the morning, and your healing speedily spring forth: and your justice will go before you, and the glory of God will surround you. Then you will cry, and God will hear you; while you are still speaking he will say, Behold, I am here. If you remove the bond from yourself, and the stretching out of the hands, and murmuring speech; and if you give bread to the hungry from your soul, and satisfy the humbled soul; then your light will spring up in darkness, and your darkness will be as noon-day: and your God will be with you continually.

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While we fast we must ask, just as those who kept the Sabbath: who is under our power? Are we just? Do we rule rightly? Or do we simply make a show and “find our wishes.” Meanwhile, “those under your power you goad.” We make a show, even if just for ourselves. We bind ourselves publicly and bind others privately. We remember evil, unlike Joseph who weeps and forgives his brothers knowing that the evil they did to him was the providence of God. We fast to be free, not bound. We fast to be free of the flesh—only thus can we “break bread for the hungry” and clothe the naked. We don’t do it out of any account we keep, but knowing that only if we are foolishly liberal in our giving of our selves will God overlook our sins and we will see his generosity; we will be like him, and thus able to see his mercy. Isaiah says then we will be like God shining with light, surrounded by the glory of God. Fasting with joy and trying ourselves with love, God will give into our hands the power to free ourselves, not just others, from bonds; we will be able to free others and feed others not just with earthly bread, but “from our soul.”