Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
God has no problem with fasting. He is not against rituals and symbolic expressions of faith. What he hates, though, are empty symbols and hollow rituals that are not joined to the life and faith they are intended to express. What he is after is the heart. Earlier in Isaiah, God complained against his people, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13).
In the New Testament, Paul shows the way of the gospel in regard to ritual. In this case the ritual of circumcision, but it is applicable in all things: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Whether or not one performs the ritual does not really matter. The only thing that counts with God is faith expressing itself through love. That is the kind of “fast” he desires from us.
In the false fast God denounced in Isaiah 58:1-5 (see Is This What You Call a Fast?), the people had the ritual down cold, with all the right moves. But it was empty because it was not connected to how they were actually living their lives. They continued exploiting and oppressing their works. They continued quarreling and fighting and even coming to blows with each other. They were accusing and slandering each other (see vv. 9-10). They were abusing each other instead of taking care of one another.
What they were doing, God was looking for the exact opposite. The fast God desired from them was one in which they would act justly toward each other. Releasing each other instead of enslaving each other. Helping each other instead of exploiting each other.
- The fast God desires is to treat people justly.
- The fast God desires is to set people free from bondage
- The fast God desires is to share our food with the hungry.
- The fast God desires is to provide shelter for the wanderer.
- The fast God desires is to clothe the naked.
- The fast God desires does not turn away from those who are in need — for they are our flesh and blood.