Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount and has just shared the Beatitudes. He lets the people know that he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law. The Pharisees and the scribes were people who were consumed with following the very letter of the law. The problem was that it didn’t come from their hearts and Jesus was anticipating a new era. He was ushering in a new kingdom in which the hearts of the people would turn toward God. The expectations were high for those who would take up their cross and follow Jesus for their righteousness would exceed that of the religious leaders.
Today’s Old Testament passage is a reminder of the kind of righteousness that the Lord expects. The people of God were not living the way in which had been anticipated and these words were spoken against them:
Isaiah 58:6-8 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? 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 them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Again — the expectations are high for God’s people. The behaviors expected in Isaiah are those anticipated in the kingdom of God. We are kingdom people and as such are not wholly governed by the rulers and authorities of this world. Called into faithful living we are challenged to live up to God’s high expectations.
Far too often fasting was done for the appearance of being spiritual. This had nothing to do with helping other people, but a self-centered fast to gain attention. Jesus called this hypocrisy because true fasting is to be done on behalf of others. When we witness injustice we are called to fast because in the space of fasting we are better able to hear the voice of God and jump to action. The yoke which has been placed upon so many is far too heavy to bear. When God’s people use their ability to remove the yoke of oppression, we are revealing the kingdom at work.
The poor and the hungry are all around us. They may not look like the poor that we expect. We may have visions of “A Christmas Carol” and Tiny Tim. But we do have people who are hungry around us because they are unable to afford good nutritious food. Far too many children are being left to fend for themselves after school or over the weekend. Many schools and churches have instituted programs of sending food home with these children so that they can eat. But what is happening within society that this has become such a problem? Is there more that we need to be examining?
There are systemic issues which are creating problems within society. The church and it’s call to kingdom living means that these issues cannot be ignored. We are to break the bonds of injustice (including systemic injustice) and help those are oppressed to go free. We must figure out how to not only share food with hungry children, but ask God to help us speak into the larger issues which are creating their hunger. We are promised that if we seek the face of God then light will “break forth like the dawn.” In other words, the light of God will shine a path through the darkness and will help us find solutions so that God’s people can be a healing spring.
The way out of exile for God’s people was to help set others free. This was the high expectation that God had, and continues to have for those who are to live as citizens of the kingdom.
Lord, may your light shine on the path that you have for us, together, as your kingdom people. Amen.