Today’s readings are Isaiah 58, and Mark 4:26-34.
In Isaiah 58, we see a picture of self deception. The Israelites were busy being pious in their religious fasts, and were convinced that they were pleasing God.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgement of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements;
they delight to draw near to God.
But God is unimpressed by their fast. He is not interested in their “religion”, because their acts of devotion are contradicted by their acts of oppression and violence. Rather, God tells of the kind of fasting he wants (that is the kind of consistent lives he wants to see accompanying their religious observances) in verses 6-7
“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?
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?
I couldn’t help but hear the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:31-46 when I read this “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
It’s easy of course to focus on the hypocrisy displayed by others and miss the fact that these people thought they were doing good – after all they delighted to draw near to God.
Rather than religion, God wants to see the kingdom of God springing up in our hearts, as we read in our second reading. Transformed lives that love God and show it by loving our neighbour, who was made also in God’s image. This transformation starts with a small seed, as we hear God’s word and it takes root in our heart. If we allow his spirit to work in us it will grow to a harvest of good works acceptable to God. It’s not our doing – rather God’s kingdom grows in our hearts through the Holy Spirit’s gentle work in us, producing fruit.
Perhaps it’s time to ask Have I convinced myself that God accepts me because I delight to draw near to Him? Could it be that he is not interested in my religion? Am I allowing his Kingdom to grow in my heart through the Holy Spirit so that I will produces works that please His heart?
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 rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’