Fifth Sunday After Epiphany: The Old Testament Passage – A question posed: who speaks for and represents you?

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.” (Isaiah 58:1-2)

The writer of Isaiah had the Lord angry at the called and chosen people. During much of the history of Israel and Judah the people (meaning those who personified the nation) did not do right in the sight of the Lord. That is the reason given for their being captured and recaptured by the nations around them. And why the prophets were called to write in the Lord’s voice of the displeasure that the Lord was assumed to have against them. And if the Lord is presumed by the writer of Isaiah to be angry, the people are presumed to be clueless.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (Verse 3a)

It is an interesting conversation between the Divine and the people, with the writer of Isaiah speaking for both sides.

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 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?” (Verses 3b – 7)

But it is also an instructive discourse, and that may very well be the purpose of it. Not so much to assume and presume what the Lord says and what the people would say. But to sum up the seeming attitude of the rules and powers that be in that nation, and what the Lord expects of a called and chosen people.

“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.” (Verses 8 to 9a)

Here ends the the main portion of the Old Testament passage for this week. There is allowance for verses 9b to 12. Perhaps this a good juncture to insert on of my favorite teaching tools – what does this mean for us? Have we (or those who seemingly express the nature and attitude of us) been as the people of Israel and Judah? Have “we”committed offenses against the Divine? It is a question not only to ask ourselves, but to ask of those who in one way or another presume to speak for us and lead us.

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 9b to 12)

I try to avoid treading on the political side of anything. And normally I would refrain with utter conviction in doing so. But to be truthful and authentic to this passage, I need to be clear that it does not speak for every soul during the time of the writer of Isaiah. It speaks to those who guided and controlled the nation. Yes, we need to examine our own lives and discern in the light of God’s wisdom how we have comported ourselves. But we must also allow the passage to stand as an indictment of the type of people the writer of Isaiah spoke to and of. Let each person discern for themselves who those people and those type of people are in their lives. Selah!

About Carole Boshart

I have blog called "Pondering From the Pacific" and it is based on my reflections on the world - sometimes religious/spiritual, and sometimes not so much. Some days roll along smoothly and some days are like rocky shale. But always I cling to my faith . . . . and my sense of humor!

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