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. —Isaiah 58:3-4
God has little patience for people who pay lip service to religious rules and do all the “externals” right but ignore the point of the rules and commandments. Case in point: today’s first reading: Isaiah 58:1-9a (or the whole 58th chapter of Isaiah for that matter). Isaiah has a scathing rebuke of people, who, on the surface, seem to be good, law-abiding religious folks. They appear to be seeking God, and they fast on the appointed days. They put on sackcloth (uncomfortable cloth made of goat or camel hair) and pour ashes on their heads to show their repentance. Yet, their external actions didn’t translate into more love, justice, or mercy for others, which was the point of the laws. While they fasted, they continued to oppress their workers, fight with each other, and even strike out in violence.
Unfortunately, this didn’t just happen back in that society. It still happens all over the world today when Catholics who go to Mass on Sundays choose profits over just treatment of workers on Monday. It happens when Christians tithe 10% of their income to charity but don’t pay their house cleaner, gardener, or nanny a living wage. It happens when priests and bishops—who perform the sacraments daily—turn a blind eye to the injustices in their church.
Let us all heed Isaiah’s warning. If it’s a choice between following the letter of the law but doing harm or following the spirit of the law, which points toward love and compassion, God is pretty clear which we should choose.
For Action: Take an honest look at how you use your time, money, skills, education, and social influence. Are there ways in which your decisions cause harm to others, even if they are legal? What can you do to rectify this?
To Pray: God, help me to focus on living out the spirit of your laws—love for all—rather than concentrating on doing everything right “religiously.”