Isaiah 58 – Part 5

We continue our series in Isaiah 58-59, with guest writer Rev. Christine Redwood.

How might this passage apply to us today? As we finish the chapter, let me bring all that we’ve learnt so far by sharing the beginning of a sermon based on Isaiah 58 and 59.

Extract Sermon

You stop at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green. It turns green you push down on the accelerator, one car has not moved. Inside that car a man shouts ‘I am blind’. Someone helps him home, a kind stranger who then turns and steals the blind man’s car. Soon he too says, ‘I am blind’.  And so it begins a blindness epidemic that sweeps the world, a blindness not dark but white. The doctors examine these cases but they can’t work out what is wrong. As more and more people lose their sight the government tries to step in by rounding up those who are blind and anyone who has contact with them and dumping them in a mental asylum at the fringes of the city. A wife lies; she says she is blind so she can be with her husband. But she can see. And so she sees, she sees how as the food is distributed so that some take more while others go hungry, she sees the guns ready to shoot any who try to escape,  the dead lay unburied, faeces line the walls. Groups form fighting against one another. Terrified at being blind some try to gain power by waving their guns around and demanding food be brought to them, and women too.  ‘Blindness’ is a story by Jose Saramago, and at the heart of this story is this quote:

”Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.’[1]

We often choose to be blind to the things we don’t want to deal with. We choose to be blind to the hard truths of who we are and what we are capable of doing to one another. We are afraid of becoming blind, of being vulnerable, and yet we are people who grope around thinking we see but we don’t. That’s why God would raise up prophets, people to speak on his behalf, people to shake us up and confront us with the reality of this world. And so the prophets shouted, not holding anything back. Again and again declaring to the people- open your eyes and see your sins! Open your eyes and see your sins so you might turn back to God, our healer and life-giver.

The people of Israel in the time of Isaiah thought they could see. They thought they were right with God and they didn’t understand why he seemed so distant. So God, speaking through the prophet, tells them:

‘Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments: they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why had we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.’

The people are blind. They think they are a nation that honours God, humbling themselves by fasting, and keeping the Sabbath as a holy day for God. They look around and see people who delight in God. But that is not what God sees. He sees people who are more interested in what helps them, who are willing to step on anyone who gets in their way- oppressing their workers so they can be rich, getting into fights when things don’t go their way.

It’s hard for us to see the truth. I mean the reality is, we are finite creatures each one of us peering out of our own eyes (and some of us, like me, already are at a disadvantage with poor eyesight) – it’s very hard for us to step out of ourselves and see things objectively. We look out of our own eyes, eyes that have been shaped by our culture and the experiences we’ve had. We process what we see with emotions that react to certain things, with minds that justify. It’s hard for us to know the truth.

Only God can see all things, can penetrate deep into our motives and reasons and know the truth. He knows how genuine are worship is, he knows how easy we forget to live by his ways even though again and again he tells us, and left us with the scriptures. Still we forget the truth. The first truth is that God cares about how we live and what type of people we are becoming:

‘Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble themselves? Is it to bow down their hear like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under them? Will you call this fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 flesh?

God wants us to be people who care about others. Especially those who are vulnerable. He calls us not to just love our family or our friends but open our eyes wider- to see the world; those who toil and struggle earning less than a dollar a day so we can have cheap clothes, to see the hidden people; the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill, the homeless and then with eyes wide open to also open our arms wide and include them in our love. To love others in practical terms means making sure there is a sense of fairness in our interactions with them, that there is enough for everyone. This is the world that God is in the business of creating but it is not the world we live in. We pretend to say we value love and justice but reality often tells a different story…

Questions to Ponder

What things might you be blind to that Isaiah 58 exposes?

Is your idea of worship big enough to include a concern for justice?

How are you caring and working for justice in your community?

[1] José Saramago and Giovanni Pontiero, Blindness : A Novel (London: Harvill, 1997), 326.

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