25 June 2015

Isaiah 58:1-12

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-24


In today's passage there is a dramatic challenge concerning religious observance in contrast to actual behaviour. The opening verse demands that the prophet speaks in response to the people's rebellion and their sin. They were endeavouring to follow God's ways - practising righteousness and delighting to draw near to God.

However, they felt God was not noticing, and God's response is pretty devastating. Their religious observance, expressed by their committed fasting, was missing the point. It served their own purposes yet they oppressed their workers and even bickered amongst themselves. They had missed the point entirely.

Religious observance, in the form of fasting, had merely resulted in internal squabbling, lack of care of vulnerable workers, displays of humility with sackcloth and ashes, and even a feeling of distance from God!

What God really wants is laid out in simple yet demanding terms: challenging injustice; overcoming oppression; feeding the hungry; housing the homeless; providing for the needs of the poor.

Then, the people will be freed up from their own oppressive behaviour, their deeds will shine out, and they will feel God's blessing.

To Ponder

  • How could you make sure that your behaviour matches what you think God wants you to do?
  • Are there other things which you would add to the list of what God requires of you? What might they be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.