Opening The Old Testament
The Irony of the True Fast: Reflections on Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Yet, what is that evil? Are not the people of Israel overtly pious? Are not they singularly religious? "Day after day, they seek me, and delight to know my ways, just as if they were a nation that (actually) practiced righteousness and did not in fact abandon my justice" (Is. 58:2a). Oh, they see themselves as a people of God; they worship up a storm, they mouth the sayings of YHWH, they claim to practice just what YHWH wants from them. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, when you take no notice" (Is. 58:3a)? These people shout their piety to the skies, but feel they are not receiving the notice of their God that they so richly deserve. We are doing what you want, YHWH; we are excluding those whom we know you hate, so why do you not reward us for our faithfulness?
But the reality in God's sight is far different than these so-called pious ones assume. "In fact on your fast days, you seek only your own interests, while you oppress all your workers. Your fasting leads only to quarreling and fighting, striking others with wicked fists. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high" (Is. 58: 3b-4). Those who quote isolated Bible verses in order to club LGBTQ people, and who do so in the name of some pious stance, are exactly these ancient people of Israel, who pray and fast but who in their communities exclude and hate others they refuse to understand and care for.
Just what sort of fast does YHWH want? Not one that majors in public displays of piety, bowing down, shouting loud affirmations of humility, dressed in sackcloth and ashes; this is not fasting at all. Here is YHWH's preferred fast: "to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the bands on the yokes of the oppressed, letting them go free." And more specifically that means "to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, and to cover the naked" (Is. 58:6-7). When that sort of fast occurs, "your light shall burst forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. Then you will call, and YHWH will answer; you shall cry out for help, and God will say, 'Here I am!'" (Is. 58: 7-9).
So, on this Scouting Sunday, celebrate the baby steps that the organization has made toward the full inclusion of all of those who are loved by God, worshipping in such ways that lead to acts of inclusion in the community. But make it clear that the BSA, and all of us, have a long way to go before we can expect the light of God breaking in upon us like the dawn. After all, this is still the season of epiphany, the season of the light breaking in. May our actions of full inclusion be a sign that the light that has come in Jesus is illuminating whatever darkness remains in us, and that at last we may hear God say "Here I am" for us.
Author's Note: Here is another reminder about the upcoming cruise of the Baltic Sea, leaving Copenhagen, Denmark on September 4, returning to the US on September 13. On board the ship, I will be lecturing on the Book of Job. I would love to meet you, my readers, there this September. Full details may be found at eo.com. And one more self-trumpeting note: my first novel will be published this year. It is King Saul, a retelling of the great story found in 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. I hope you will want to read it.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.