Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Feast of Justice (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part V)

So far, my personal musings in this series on the Fast of Isaiah 58 have dwelt on the aspect of what we are to do by way of fasting and our proper attitude for purposes of the fast.   But there is another, and I think very comforting, aspect of Isaiah 58.  That is, although we have clear obligations, God also makes promises back to us.   In fact, what God promises to give me, should I keep his word in Isaiah 58, seems bigger than anything I might give up.

Before thinking about what it is that I get when I live in accordance with Isaiah 58, I’d like to dwell on what it is that I give up.   I confess that sometimes when I “do good,” I get weary of it.  Sometimes, I find myself second guessing what "doing the right thing" has cost me.  For instance, suppose I were to find a million dollars on the sidewalk.  Doing as I ought, I return it to its rightful owner.  

Round #1 of second guessing sounds like this:  “Wow, just think of all the things I could have done with that million dollars.  Is there, by any chance, any reward offered to the finder?  Crumbs, perhaps?”  Round #2 of second guessing continues:  "That other guy [you know, my neighbor across the street, or that guy with the nice new ____ (insert noun)], he also found a million dollars, and he didn’t give any of it back!  Now look at how HE is living, and that could have been ME if only I had not given that money back.” 

You get the idea.   It seems to me that there are two levels of second guessing,  One is the second guessing as to how some private act affects me privately.  The other level of second guessing has to do with a more social level of action,  of temptation to follow the trend of what everyone else is doing. 

On the one hand, we know that we ought not to judge ourselves as against others, but it’s so tempting when everyone else seems to be living a certain lifestyle that could make us envious.  And, it’s also no fun to be totally out of sync with society.  “Couldn’t I,” we ask God, “please just be allowed to fit in with what everyone else is doing?”  (Could it be that this is part of what happened during the recent housing bubble?  I confess, I used to wonder how people could afford such houses.  I expressed this wonderment with a certain whiney and envious tone as if to say, “why can’t I have one, too?”) 

The second half of Isaiah Chapter 58 gives me a lot of comfort in this regard, because of what it promises.  No, it does not promise a red sports car  (I wish!)  But what it promises seems to me more long lasting and significant.  It offers a vision, and a promise, not only of personal peace, but of peace within our society ( I think).  See if you agree: 

 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.11

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land  and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Wow.  I just really like this.  What promises! 

“Your night will become like the noonday.” 

“he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land . . . .”

“You will be like a well-watered garden . . . .” 

And not only these, but there is a collective benefit as well:

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins . . . .” 

If God had made promises to give me houses or cars or electricity, these are things that can all be taken away.  They’re material.  They go away.  Having a night like noonday, having my needs satisfied, being like a well-watered garden, having my people engaged in doing a mighty work … these things seem much more substantial to me in the long haul.  By the long haul, I mean how I think I will measure my life at the end, when I look back and say, "my life has been good."

 No matter where I am, who I am, or what I otherwise have, the things promised in Isaiah 58 aren’t dependent upon anything “outside” of who I am, and they don’t depend on what I have, materially.  What they represent, to me, is much more solid.  Namely, these images are centering thoughts to me, bringing me to think in terms of images that convey peace.  When we fast the fast of Isaiah, by doing right and acting justly, we don't accumulate cars or houses or a nice wine cellar.  Instead, we reap the immeasurable benefit of peace in our personal lives and peace in our right relations with others. 

Peace be with you! 
Corrado Giaquinto, Justice and Peace Kiss (18th C, Prado Museum) courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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