Friday after Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)
In the days of perennial Friday abstinence, preachers often ranted about people eating lobster. What kind of a sacrifice is that? They would say. They had a point. Lobster is rich and tasty, hardly a hardship. The criticism echoes the one offered in today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
The writer did not live toward the end of the eighth century B.C. like the prophet most of us think of when we hear the name Isaiah. He lived and prophesized two centuries later. The Jews had not long returned from the Babylonian exile. They were rebuilding Jerusalem and wanted to live the traditions of their ancestors. They fasted and prayed for God’s assistance. Speaking for God, the prophet tells the people that their fasts and prayers are in vain if they do not practice justice. God told their ancestors to pay workers fairly and to directly assist the hungry and homeless.
In Lent especially but also throughout the year, we should heed the prophet’s words. Our prayers and fasting must be oriented to caring for those in need. We must support a society where everyone has both material and spiritual resources to live with dignity.