The insistent question for us, in our study of Isaiah 58 – focused on verses 6-14 – seems to be: what would the prophet say to us? Would we ourselves be called to account for not choosing the fast that God chooses? And in our present-day context, far removed from sixth-century Judea, what would it look like to choose that fast?
Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple more specific questions that are, really, simply elaborations of that central question, that might help us think about it or discuss it:
We might need to look at how we read v6 in relationship to v7, and v9b in relationship to v10a. Do we understand v7 as an explanation of v6? Do we understand v10a as an explanation of v9b? If we don’t, how do we read those verses?
If we do read them that way, what does that mean for the way we ourselves think about “injustice” and about “wicked speech”? Do we ourselves normally think of “injustice” as “people going hungry” etc.? Do we ourselves normally think of “wicked speech” as “it’s their own fault …” or “that’s not MY problem …”? What would need to change for us to think that way? Thoughts or feelings about that?
How does v13 relate to these other verses, do we think? What does sabbath observance have to do with self-interest, or justice, do we think?
[more personal] What are our own attitudes towards “the poor,” “the hungry,” “the homeless,” etc. – some of the categories of people identified in the text? Do we think of them as our kin? Why, or why not?
Does this text seem “political” to us? Do we expect to find this kind of “politics” in the Bible? Thoughts or feelings about that?
Is this a text about “how to live”? Do we expect to find texts like that in the Bible? Thoughts or feelings about that?
[more personal] How would we react to hearing a sermon on this text in our church on a Sunday morning? Do we think? Why?
Does this text continue to have a claim on us? Or not? Why, or why not?
[more theoretical] Especially if we think the text does not have the same kind of claim on us as it would have had on 6th century Judeans: how do our reasons affect the claim of other texts from around that same time?
Overall, we might want to take this opportunity to assess our own practices, as between ritual fasting [and other “religious” practices] and “the fast that I [God] choose.” How comfortable are we with our own practices, in light of our reading of Isaiah 58? What thoughts or feelings does that examination bring up for us? And what might we be called to do about any of that?
Image: “La Discussion Politique,” Émile Friant, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons