* From Seven Days of Compassion: A Devotion Nazarene Compassion Ministries.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, 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. ISAIAH 58:6-9 (NRSV)
According to the words given to the prophet Isaiah, it’s good to faithfully show up at worship services, spend hours reading our Bibles, and regularly pray and fast. But if the way we live our lives does not lead to active care for others, then God is not pleased. The act of fasting described in Isaiah 58 looked good on the outside, but it still was not acceptable to God. That’s because the actions that accompanied the fasting included oppressing workers for personal gain, fighting and quarreling, and striking with a “wicked fist” (verses 3-5).
God is concerned with the wholeness of all people. The fast that God chooses is one that brings freedom and loosens the bonds of injustice. The justice God calls us to is one that is relational; God’s justice is fundamentally a restorative justice that puts the world and relationships right.
Sharing bread here is more than handing out food to those in need; it’s a picture of breaking bread together, of sharing a meal in relationship. Bringing in the “homeless poor” is more than providing a bed and a blanket; it’s showing hospitality to those who are cast out, those who are unable to care for themselves, those who are seeking refuge. Covering those who are naked is more than cleaning out our closets and giving our worn-out, cast-off clothing to
a charity; it is to offer a decent clothing—and the dignity that comes with it—to those wearing ragged clothing or clothing that won’t keep them warm. Not to hide from your kin is more than answering the phone when a family member calls; it is being truly available to your family and generously offering help when they need it.
True holiness is a love of God that leads to living in God’s ways. This love leads to a change of heart that affects how we treat others. It is impossible to love God and not love others. The words found in 1 John 4:20 puts it bluntly: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Living as the holy people of God looks like enacting God’s righteousness through action. Our personal lives and our communities should reflect God’s concern for other people, especially those who are hungry or poor or oppressed. Yet without compassionate love for others, even these good acts could easily become empty acts done out of a sense of obligation rather than love.
God is pleased when sharing becomes part of who we are, rather than acts of charity on a religious checklist. God is pleased when we begin to see others as people who are made in God’s image and when our love for God results in compassionate efforts to loosen the bonds of injustice for others.
God of Justice, we want to please You in our acts of worship, and we want our love for You to change the way we relate to others. Help us strive to be channels of Your love that break the chains of injustice in our world. Use us to restore Your world and set relationships right. Amen.
• Spend time in prayer, asking God to show you ways that your actions may be contributing toward injustice for others. Ask God to reveal specific ways you can share and act in a way that ensures others have what they need, too.
• As a church, consider hosting a community dinner where you break bread together with neighbors who may be in need.
• If you live in a cold area, consider hosting a coat and sock drive to benefit neighbors in need. Request new or gently used items.
• Next, consider ways your church can support ministries that help people gain employment so that they can purchase their own food and clothing with dignity.