Lectionary II (Yr C)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (I)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (II)
Heb. 13:1-8, 15-16
Lk. 13:10-17 (I)
Lk. 13:10-17 (II)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (I)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (II)
Luke 12:49-56 (I)
Luke 12:49-56 (II)
Heb. 12:1-7 (I)
Heb. 12:1-7 (II)
Gen. 15:1-6 (I)
Gen. 15:1-6 (II)
Psalm 50 (I)
Psalm 50 (II)
Lk 12:32-40 (I)
Lk 12:32-40 (II)
Heb. 11:1ff. (I)
Heb. 11:1ff. (II)
Lk. 12:13-21 (I)
Lk. 12:13-21 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (I)
Lk. 11:1-13 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (III)
Lk. 10:38-42 (I)
Lk. 10:38-42 (II)
Lk. 10:25-37 (I)
Lk. 10:25-37 (II)
II Kings 5:1-14 (I)
II Kings 5:1-14 (II)
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
Galatians 6 (I)
Galatians 6 (II)
II Kings 2:1-14
Ps. 16 (I)
Ps. 16 (II)
Gal. 5:1, 13-25
I Ki. 19:1-15a (I)
I Ki. 19:1-15a (II)
Ps. 42-43 (I)
Ps. 42-43 (II)
Gal. 3:23-29 (I)
Gal. 3:23-29 (II)
I Kings 21 (I)
I Kings 21 (II)
Luke 7:36-50 (I)
Luke 7:36-50 (II)
Gal 2:11-21 (I)
Gal 2:11-21 (II)
I Kings 17:8-24
Trinity (June 3)
Prov. 8:22-31 (I)
Prov. 8:22-31 (II)
Romans 5:1-5 (I)
Romans 5:1-5 (II)
John 16: 5-15
Pentecost (May 27)
Gen. 11:1-9 (I)
Gen. 11:1-9 (II)
Acts 2:1-21 (I)
Acts 2:1-21 (II)
John 14:8-17 (II)
Easter VII (May 20)
Acts 16:16-34 (I)
Acts 16:16-34 (II)
John 17:20-26 (I)
John 17:20-26 (II)
Easter VI (May 13)
Rev. 21:10, 22-22:5
Easter V (May 6)
Acts 11; 13; 14
My Own Acrostic Ps. (based on Ps. 145)
Pentecost + 13--August 26, 2007
Bill Long 8/18/07
Isaiah 58:9b-14; Whose Interests Do YOU Serve?
Here is the text for the morning, in the NRSV:
9 If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Isaiah 58 speaks of two religious duties incumbent on the people of Israel: fasting and sabbath-keeping. Both of these duties were rooted in the religious life, and both had as their aims the cultivation of true worship of God. But, as the passage lays out, the people were pursuing these obligations for their own benefit. As v. 3 says: "Why do we fast, but you (i.e., God) do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Religious duty was pursued for the recognition that followed from it. In this case people hoped that God would "give them credit," so to speak, for the religious duty they had taken on themselves. The NT equivalent is Jesus' characterization of the Pharisees' conduct in Matthew 23:
"4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi."
Religious duties can be performed as a sort of "favor" to God or to be seen by other people. This passage addresses proper motivation for ethical action.
Isaiah 58 may conveniently be divided into four sections. The first (vv. 1-5) criticizes the people for celebrating fasts only to quarrel and fight. Then, in vv. 6-14, we have three stanzas which begin with questions on proper fasting (vv. 6-7) proper ethical duties to others (vv. 9b-10a) and proper celebration of the sabbath (v. 13), which are each followed by similar words of blessing (vv. 8-9a; 10b-12; 14). The relentless questioning or "if" statements in the first part of each stanza, followed by the blessings envisioned in the second, drives home to us the importance of proper motivation in our religious duties. And when the religious duties are spelled out, they look remarkably like Jesus' words in his first sermon in Luke 4:16-30. The concept of "release" or "liberation" suffuses both passages.
One other point. The flow of Is. 58 is similar to Is. 1:10-20. In both of them the people pride themselves on fulfilling some kind of religious responsibility, but in both there is the threat of divine intervention. However, the contrast between the two is stark. In Is. 1 a divine judgment is in view, while in Is. 58 a series of blessings follows the proper observance of duty. Why the difference in tone? Perhaps because the Servant of the Lord (Is. 43; 49; 50; 52-53) has "intervened" in the mean time.
Let me say a word here about stanzas two and three of the passage (vv. 9b-14).
II. Removing the Yoke (9b-12)
As indicated above, this is the second "stanza" of the chapter, with 9b-10a constituting the ethical responsibility and 10b-12 being the blessing that follows. Note here that as the passage goes on the blessings get longer. Here there are three "duties" that fall on the people, and four "blessings" that follow. Let's say a word about each. The meaning of to "remove the yoke" (v. 9b) is spelled out earlier in the passage:
"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)
It means to remove all kinds of oppression, wherever it may be. Then, the passage speaks of removing "the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil." Here we have to do with defamatory words rather than the actions that keep people in thrall. But it is good to stress both. Words can really hurt. Finally, we have the "offering of food to the hungry." Rather than refraining from food in the fast and hoping that God sees the effort, one should use the food that you would have eaten to share with the hungry.
What happens as a result? Light rises in the darkness. This line is reminiscent of Ps. 139:11-12, which reads:
"If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you."
Light shines for those who fast properly. Our needs will be satisfied "in parched places," those dry valleys of life which in fact constitute so much of our life's course. Bones will be made strong, and our waters will never fail. Finally, the "ancient ruins shall be rebuilt." In view here is the sense that exile can be reversed; that destruction and loss will not be the last words we hear in life; that restoration will be the final reality of life.
III. Properly Keeping the Sabbath (vv. 13-14)
Now we return to the idea of the sabbath, which began our passage in vv. 1-5. If we keep it properly (the vivid wording is "refrain from trampling the sabbath"), making sure that the purpose of our keeping it is not to gratify our own desires or simply for our own entertainment, then we also will be blessed.
I should say a word in conclusion about sabbath. When I was growing up as a boy in New England, we still had the "Blue laws," passed in colonial times, which restricted operation of stores and other public activities on Sundays. Gradually these laws have been repealed so that now a Sunday is a day of commerce almost as much as any other day of the week. We have lost a sense of "sabbath" in our culture, and we frenetically rush to produce more and more, despite the clear Scriptural indications that rest is at the heart of the divine plan for us. Is this only something for a time 2000-2500 years ago? Not in my judgment. A time set apart, where we honor the day because of the Maker of the day, where we pursue not our own economic affairs but another agenda--this is what the Scripture is talking about. What is this other agenda? It is too facile to say that it simply is "God's agenda," or "Worship," or something like that. When we put our own things aside for a time, we will learn what that new agenda will become. It may be the loosening of the yoke of people; it may be other forms of learning or service. We can be sure, however, that religious duties performed for the sake of others, will lead us to the "heights of the earth" (v. 14). Let's enjoy the vista.