The second lesson is that spirituality is supposed to be social. Many assume that spirituality is purely vertical, that it’s strictly between the believer and God. But spirituality is also horizontal; it’s between the believer and other people. Part of the problem in Isaiah 58 was that the people coupled their fasting with the oppression of others. Any spirituality that functions to oppress people is out of bounds.
The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said they were abstaining from food but not from harming others. The fast God desires is for us to abstain from oppressing people. Isaiah 58:6-7 says, “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?” Self-denial for the sake of impressing God is out.
Self-denial for the sake of helping others is in. In other words, self-denial is not undertaken for asceticism but for altruism. It does not please God when we go without so that God might do us a favour. It pleases God when we go without so that we can furnish something for others. One appropriate undertaking for Lent is to fast from certain things in order to furnish resources that others need. For example, we might skip lunch in order to provide lunch for someone who otherwise would not have a meal.
Lord, let me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray,
My prayer shall be for others.
Others, Lord, yes, others;
Let this my motto be.
Help me to live for others
That I may live like You. Amen