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The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany A, February 5, 2023

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The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany A, February 5, 2023

The first half of vs. 3 has the people raising a lament to the Lord. From the second half of vs. 3 through vs. 5, the Lord gives his response to the people’s lament regarding the worthiness of their fasting. The Lord continues speaking in vs. 7 & 8 by delivering his definition of fasting and then in vs. 8 & 9 declaring the results of such fasting.

People raise a lament to their God. They lament that they have been good, pious folk practicing their religion through fasting and humility. Yet, God takes no notice of it. Their Lord does not respond to their piety no matter how arduously they practice it and offer up their own works to him. In response to the people’s lament, the Lord tells them the truth about their piety: it’s only for their own pleasure (vs. 3). Their fasting and other such pious displays only serve as an excuse for them to use their self-righteousness as a cudgel against others (vs. 4). The bowed head, the sackcloth, the ashes… all outward signs of a humility that has no inward affect: it’s just for show. The Lord’s response to the people’s piety ridicules its pretense. Their piety gives the pretense of being humble before the Lord but, as the Lord says, it’s only for the people’s pleasure.

The Lord tells the people the truth. The people may think their piety is worth something before their Lord, it’s not. All their practices of piety simply expose the bondage of their wills. The people cannot escape their own self-interest… they cannot escape their own self-righteousness… They cannot escape the “I” at the center of themselves that inexorably draws everything they think, do, and feel into the self at their center. That is their bondage.

So, beginning in vs. 6, the Lord tells his people that he… yes, he has chosen a fast… a fast that echoes the language of Isaiah 9:4… a fast of loosening, undoing, freeing, and breaking all those things that hold the people in bondage… those things that hold you in bondage, especially the bondage of your very own will. The instrument of the Lord’s “fast” is Jesus Christ. Only as the Lord delivers him to you, binding you to him… only then do you know true freedom and enjoy its results (vs. 7-9).

Table Talk: Discuss the self-serving nature of piety.
Pray: Heavenly Father, deliver Jesus to me so that he is my life and I live in his freedom and spontaneously feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Isaiah 58:3-9a English Standard Version

3 Why have we fasted, and you see it not?

Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,

and oppress all your workers.

4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

and to hit with a wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day

will not make your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is such the fast that I choose,

a day for a person to humble himself?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed,

and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast,

and a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

7 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 him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up speedily;

your righteousness shall go before you;

the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.

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