“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? … If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day … then you will find your joy in the LORD…”
— ISAIAH 58:6, 13–14
I am intrigued by a counterpoint found in Isaiah 58. The prophet sounds a magisterial call for
engagement in our world with a commitment to social justice, but also a disengagement—a rest—from this same call.
Isaiah is speaking about worship, but he stresses that worship is only authentic if it is complemented by a very specific kind of engagement with the world: a commitment to justice, to advocating and caring for the oppressed, to feeding the hungry and attending to the homeless. He calls for consistency, a congruency between our worship and our actions in the world.
This is a simple yet powerful reminder that when we speak of the mission of the Church, it is a witness to Christ and to the Kingdom that is expressed in word and deed. More to the point, these words of the prophet remind us that there is no righteousness without justice, and more, there is no justice without economic justice.
The prophet also calls for disengagement; it is fascinating to see a call for social justice back to back with a call to Sabbath rest, a call for disengagement from the pressures and challenges of serving Christ in the world. This suggests that Sabbath rest is a vital spiritual practice. We are not called to unrelenting work and witness; rather, in Sabbath rest, we disengage and learn to trust God to do God’s work in God’s time. The call to Sabbath is a reminder that there is a rhythm to work and rest and to service and leisure at the very heart of creation and, interestingly, in the call of God on our lives.
Isaiah 58 reveals a fascinating counterpoint: a call to engagement and disengagement.
1. In what ways am I engaging in social justice?
2. It is easy to become too involved in our fast-paced society. Is Sabbath rest in the Lord a priority in my spiritual life?
Gordon T. Smith is the President of Ambrose University in Calgary, AB
image: Basin and Towel with Bench ©2010 3dBibleScenes.com