“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
The teens in the rehab program of the psych hospital I worked for were rarely happy to find themselves locked up. State regs required that all new patients be strip-searched for contraband and weapons. We weren't treating rich kids from the city's gated communities. Our male patients were mostly violent gang members, or gang-wannabes. When it came time for a new guy to go through the search, he usually balked and became very, very agitated. Inevitably, I found myself giving him a rather stark choice: “You can choose to do this the easy way or the hard way.” The hard way involved four or five 250 lbs staff taking him to the floor and putting him in restraints. In the four and a half years I worked on the unit, Staff never failed to carry out the required search.
We can take easy way or the hard way in practicing our faith. Unlike my stubborn patients, we are encouraged to choose the hard way. Isaiah reports that the Lord is not really all that interested in our ashes and sackcloth and weeping. You can be a brutal slave driver and still manage the charade of public penance at the end of the day: “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” Unfortunately, we sometimes do. So, what is the fasting that the Lord wishes from us? Setting free captives unjustly bound; feeding the hungry, giving food and shelter to the homeless; in other words, a fast of charitable service to those who need to see and hear and feel the love of God. Why is this the hard way? There are no 250 lbs staff members waiting to pounce and force us to be servants. There are no restraints involuntarily placed on our charity. We are as free to be as miserly or as generous as we choose. The real choice here is between being the master with an enslaved heart, or a slave with a heart truly freed.
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