The words from Isaiah 58:1-9 are like brilliant beams of light, cutting through any false notions we might have about this season of repentance that we call Lent. Often we tend to think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when we do so, we become morose and end up centering more on our own sacrificial devotions than on God.
Lent is a time to get rid of the flub in our lives but only so we are able to connect more to the Heart of our Beloved, more on the people around us who are in need. Lent is not an excuse for dramatic acts of fasting by wearing sackcloth and ashes, figuratively or literally. As Isaiah says:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
God answers this rhetorical question with a resounding, “NO.”
Our Father is not interested in such spectacles which simply focus on ourselves and our sins. As mortals, we are all the same. As St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans: 3:23). This fact is a given. The truly repentant man, the sort of man who is acceptable to God, is described in today’s Psalm.
A repentant man is contrite, humbly acknowledging his sin in simplicity, trusting more in God’s mercy than any of his own heroic acts of supposed repentance. It is God alone who washes us from guilt, who cleanses us from sin. He is not concerned with mere outer actions of repentance like sacrifices but on our inner attitude. Only a humble and contrite heart will do.
Not only is God looking for an attitude of true humility but He desires positive actions. We all fall into the dubious habit of asking, “So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” Wrong question, folks. Isaiah is quite clear,
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
And then the scripture breaks into words of glorious joy, inspiring hope in all of us mere humans because positive acts of mercy, love and concern shine like beacons of light in this world of ours. God will then forgive us and vindicate us. He will answer our prayers with mercy because we have shown mercy in positive acts of love and concern to those in need.
In these first days of Lent, the Church shows us exactly how God wants us to pray, fast, serve His people and worship Him.
Copyright 2017 Melanie Jean Juneau