Almost no Christians I know fasts anymore. Oh, maybe at Lent, or on a special occasion for decision-making. Fasting is out of vogue.
And one reason might be that although Jesus encouraged it, and instructed us how to fast in Matthew 6, he gave no grave warnings if Christians didn’t. His disciples were even criticized for not fasting and Jesus defended them. So, it sometimes feels like an optional command or good suggestion. But God, through Isaiah did command a radical type of fast that is anything but optional.
They (Israel) ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. Isaiah 58:3-9
What God is saying through the prophet to Israel is this; If you’re going without food for a time, but without a heart for justice, mercy and humility that leads to action, it useless. It’s worse then useless. It’s hypocritical and I’ll not answer your prayers until you get serious about caring for the poor!
So, what does that mean for 21st Century Christians?
You and I are to provide for the needs of the poor, we know personally, to the extent we are able. No leaving it to the church or government to care for poor people in our lives – a neighbor, an unemployed single mother in our church, and a man you know just out of rehab or jail, or his family. They are our assignment from God. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Matthew 25:34-36
We are to be advocates for any aliens we know or their families left behind, if deported. I’ve heard otherwise good Christians say that, “It’s their own fault. They have no right to come illegally into this country.” Let’s be honest, if your family or mine were living in poverty or violence, every one of us would do the exact same thing! I don’t have the answer for border control. That’s the government’s business. And yes, they broke the law. But if a parent is deported, Christians should care for the family left behind, no questions asked. I cannot imagine Jesus doing anything less. Can you?
Visit people in jail, even total strangers and offer to help their family. I’ve only done this a few times, but I’ve been blessed each time I did. I once read in the newspaper of a man who served 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and was exonerated. I called his attorney and got his contact number and met him for lunch and offered to help him get back on his feet. To my surprise, other Christians had already stepped to the plate and offered to help. Nevertheless, he was thankful I cared and it gave me an opportunity to introduce him to Jesus.
Visit your local homeless shelter and find out what the homeless in your city need. I’ve been doing that the last month with some of our college age grandchildren. Together, we’re working on some ideas to make a real difference in the lives of some homeless people. I’ll let you know if any of our ideas work out in a future blog. This idea began 30 years ago, when our then 10th grader Molly asked, “How can we justify living in this nice house, when there are people sleeping outside in the snow and rain?” That led to us visiting homeless shelters and finding out that there were none for homeless families. Through Molly’s faith and generosity of friends, we built seven apartments for temporarily homeless families, still in use today!
The point is, “do something!” If nothing else, the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 tells us this. No matter how these people got poor, jailed, sick or hungry, Jesus appears to move them to the head of the line and expects his sheep to care for them without an excuse. If not, it’s to the left – the goat pen. No promise here of eternal security. Just a bone-chilling warning for people who believe they are Christians who refuse to obey an Isaiah fast.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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