A Path to Holiness

Scripture Isaiah 58:1-9a

Thus, says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
"Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?"

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
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?
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and 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!

Reflection

Over the past year I lost about 20 pounds.  I am not unhappy with this result, but it is a relatively mediocre accomplishment.  Often these are the two voices I hear in my own head: 

Voice 1:  I am so happy I worked out on the elliptical today.  I feel great.  I know I am going to lose weight this week.

Voice 2:  I realize it is right before bed, but one bowl of cereal isn’t going to hurt.  Besides I earned it!  I deserve this reward well, because I had a difficult day and I did work out! 

The issue is more obvious to you than it is to me especially when I am in the midst of this battle of entitlement and self-control. 

It is also the same battle that is described by the prophet Isaiah.  The Israelites are upset.  It seems that they have been “working out” by fasting, but God has not taken note.  It is their belief that they have earned God’s favor because they were following the law and are incredulous that they have not been granted God’s favor.  Of course, in their opinion, they are entitled to God’s blessing. 

The problem is not only that they are they not eating right, but their exercises are inefficient and lacking proper form.  God reminds them not to be proud of their fasting because they are selfish and mean to each other,  “your fast day you carry out your own pursuits and drive all your laborers.  Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.”  God then tells them this isn’t even what I want from you.  What I desire is that you are: “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.”

Humans must be fascinating creatures to observe.  We just cannot get it right even though we are convinced we are getting it exactly right.  On Ash Wednesday a thread on twitter was an argument about the words that should be said while receiving ashes.  Many were self-righteous in their responses.  God could not care less.  This thought was driven home a couple hours later when a nineteen-year-old walked into a high school in Florida and executed 17 people.

Considering the state of our world, maybe our Lenten observance should be focused on holiness.  Becoming holy means that we have been transformed.  Isaiah tells us that holiness is acknowledging our connectedness to other human beings and responding to their needs especially the poor and vulnerable. Our path to holiness must include both the "exercises" of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, that are efficient and effective, as well as the "healthy eating" of caring for those in need.  It is this combination, and not a duplicitous approach that sabotages our best efforts, that will result in a holy life.

Holiness is a journey; holiness cannot be bought. It can’t be sold. It cannot be given away. Holiness is a journey to God’s presence that I must make: no one else can do it in my name.
— Pope Francis

Questions

  • How do you discern what God asks of you?
  • When are you duplicitous or inauthentic in your spiritual pursuits?
  • Who is someone you know who is in need?  How might you help them?

Action

FAST from petty arguments:  rise above the smallness that can drag us down.  Remember you are God’s chosen.

PRAY by listening.  Take 3 minutes to be quiet and still.  Close your eyes and just listen to your surroundings.What do you hear God saying to you?  Are you listening clearly?

GIVE your presence to an individual who needs an ear to hear them or a shoulder to support them.