True fasting has to have something behind it. External disciplines are good, but there has to be truth lying behind them. A kiss is a powerful way of saying I love you, but it was with a kiss that Judas betrayed Jesus. So what is the true inner meaning that lies behind our outward fasting?
Isaiah says: “Share your bread with the hungry” (Isa 58:7) – Martin Luther King said: “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made.”
Isaiah says “Bring the homeless poor into your house” (Isa. 58:7) – What about this house – God’s House? We all want to welcome people in here when they are the right sort of people, respectable people. people like us. But what about people who are more difficult to get on with? What about people who barely speak any English who is a real struggle to chat with over coffee after the service? What about children with ADHD or autism who run around in the middle of the church service making a terrible racket? These are the spiritually homeless poor.
Isaiah says: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,” (Isa 58:9) – It’s true isn’t it – for all of us it’s so easy to criticise, to blame to point the finger” In one of my past churches there was a lady who never said a word against anybody. She always pointed out the good. It is amazing the difference it makes to have someone doing that. It lifted the hearts of all and spoke blessing. What can we do not to point the finger but actively to speak blessing to those around us?
There once was a church where the walls were painted white. Whenever they sang Amazing Grace, the entire congregation turned to face one particular wall. The new minister was curious about this, so she asked people why, but no one knew. Eventually she was taking sick communion to a 96-year-old member of the church so she asked him. “Ah” he said, “When I was a boy we couldn’t afford hymn books for everyone, so we painted the words of Amazing Grace on one of the walls. Every time we sang it we turned to face that wall. Over the years the words faded and the walls were repainted, but we still always turn to face that wall.
Isaiah has God ask question “Is this the fast I seek?” As we observe Lent and give things up or take things up, let us make sure that they are not empty shells like that wall that once had a meaning, or a lie like Judas’s kiss of Jesus. Let them be true fasting where the exterior disciplines reflect the inner realities. (FATHER EDMUND CARGILL THOMPSON)