My study through Isaiah these past two years challenges my comfortable theology. I now understand so much more about the heart of God. We see it clearly in the radical statements Jesus made, such as his terrifying parable of the sheep and the goats. With those words, he merely restates what he previously had written in Isaiah and many other passages through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Messiah Jesus came, giving himself away, not only to pay for our sins but to radically change us, altering our brokenness with his own presence. In response to the Lord’s generous giving of himself, at Christmas time I ponder my own generosity. Am I following in his steps? Am I giving myself away? To discover this, I must know:
What does true generosity look like? With what is God concerned?In response to the Lord's generous giving of himself, I ponder my own generosity. Am I following in his steps? Am I giving myself away? To discover this, I must know: What does true generosity look like? With what is God concerned? Click To Tweet
The people of Isaiah’s day asked the same questions. They had humbled themselves. They had fasted. They had prayed. Yet, their prayers weren’t answered. They wondered why. Where was God while they were performing these religious duties? They wanted to know.
God responded with hard words. All the while his people had fasted and prayed, they had been neglecting the poor and oppressing their workers. During their fasting, they had been quarreling, fighting, and refusing to forgive others. Their actions had been wicked.
And so, God said, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4b ESV).
Well, surely we would never do what they were doing. As we read, we take a quick inventory, certain that we’re not doing any of those things. Whenever we feel like this as we’re studying the Word, we should just stop and repent, because the next revelation will be that we’re probably, actually, doing those very things.
Here’s the Lord’s response to our belief that we’re already doing all we should be doing. The Lord prescribes a “fast” of action, repentance, and transformation.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:6-11 ESV
I want all those blessings! But, if you’re like me, you flinched at verses 7 and 9. Much more is required of me than I am giving. Like them, I don’t want to give quite as much of myself to my fellow human beings as is required here.
Christian Affiliate Marketer Edna Davidsen put it this way: “It’s our duty to love our neighbour, daily. The concept of neighbour is broader than the people living in the house next door in Christianity. The powerful aspect of this message, and what makes it highly relevant in today’s culture is that our duty to love our neighbour is not determined by our desires but by our neighbour’s needs.”
What are our neighbor’s needs? How do we miss recognizing and doing this? How did the “righteous” miss what they were supposed to be doing to take care of their neighbors? Easy. Jesus tells us, they didn’t see.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:38-40 NIV).
Do we see? Do we see Jesus in the people before us?
My mind travels to images of poverty from novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and by Dickens and then on to Ebenezer Scrooge’s cold and dismissive Christmas-time statements about the poor that demonstrated his inability to see: “Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?”
Then I consider Les Miserables and Jean Valjean’s destruction over a loaf of bread. His culture couldn’t see the simple need of a young man to provide food for his family. He was redeemed through an act of kindness, forgiveness, and generosity by one who saw him as a child of God.
The stab of conviction deepens. I fall short. I fall very short indeed. I am often blind.
What am I to do? What about you?
As we experience these days of meditating on Christ’s birth, his incarnation, and his giving of himself in utter sacrifice – for this is why he came, we humble ourselves and bow before him, asking him to show us how to see. We ask him to empower us for action.
Anne Mackie-Morelli wrote this about why Jesus turned to speak and to affirm an outcast woman. “It was, and is, about showing us how to turn and see the isolated, the marginalized, the outcast, and the broken-hearted. Being willing to draw in close to the hurting. Willing to lean into the hard and brutal and broken spaces in each other’s lives.”
Like Jesus, can we at least turn to see, to speak, and perhaps to heal? Can we do more?
We can’t do it in our own strength. That’s obvious. No one can. Our empathy is severely limited. This must be Holy Spirit led and Holy Spirit directed.
What will we do? Will we rely on the Lord to bring this change in us?