“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke (Isaiah 58:6)?”
Even spiritual disciplines can be turned in self-serving directions. That’s the warning of Isaiah to the people of Judah in chapter 58. People were apparently practicing the discipline of fasting—a very good thing—for all the wrong reasons. Hoping to add a bit more ‘bite’ to their prayers, they had identified certain days as fasting days. Then, when they didn’t get what they wanted from God, they complained that God didn’t notice their sacrifice. Worse yet, while they fasted, they ignored those around them, particularly their needy neighbors. “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit your workers,” Isaiah protested. “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife.”
This simple fact was never lost on Isaiah: When we are moving toward the heart of God , we will also be moving toward our neighbor. Love for God must be met by love for our neighbor. Isaiah saw with great clarity that our neighbor must include those whom Jesus would later call “the least of these my brothers.” The end result of our renewed discipline during Lent, if it is truly centered in God, will be an increased sensitivity to those who suffer from “the chains of injustice,” those who are oppressed and those who are hungry.