This is the conclusion to the blog which began with Hearing Isaiah 58 in the Gospel. We are considering ways in which the Gospel tradition fulfills Isaiah 58, or how Isaiah 58 is echoed in the Gospel tradition.
 This is not the fast that I have chosen, even a day for a person to humble himself; not even if you bend your neck like a ring, and spread under you sackcloth and ashes – not even so shall you call it an accepted fast.  I have not chosen such a fast, says the Lord; rather loose every bond of injustice, undo the knots of contracts made by force; let the oppressed go free, and tear up every unjust note.  Break your bread with the one who is hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; if you see one naked, clothe him, and you shall not neglect any of the relatives of your seed.  Then your light shall break forth early in the morning, and your healings shall rise quickly; your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of God shall cover you.  Then you shall cry out, and God will listen to you; while you are still speaking, he will say, here I am. If you remove from you a bond and a stretching of the hand and a murmuring word,  and give to one who is hungry bread from your soul and satisfy the soul that has been humbled, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your darkness shall be like the noonday.
Jesus did not simply claim to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, He did signs and wonders to prove He was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. God promised healings would occur in Israel when they did the right kind of fasting and indeed Jesus heals the sick. God promises to listen to the prayers and appeals of Israel if they fast correctly, and it is clear at numerous points in the Gospels that God the Father is with Jesus, fulfills His requests and speaks to Him. Isaiah says light will come to Israel if they fast as God approves of fasting, and Jesus is presented in Scripture as the Light of the world.
And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” ( Luke 7:19-23)
Christ is doing what God associates with the kind of fasting of which He approves. And so He is empowered to heal the sick. Because Jesus fasts as God commands, we can understand Jesus’ own words about why His disciples do not fast – they do not fast in the way the Jews of the Old Testament fasted. They are not to follow these ritualistic rules of self denial, but rather are to rejoice in the Lord who empowers them to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. They are to do the type of fasting which results in salvation; fasting liberates all who are oppressed by Satan. Fasting from the corrupt practices of the world, liberates God’s people from the oppression of Satan and from slavery to sin and death.
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matthew 9:14-15)
Christ the Word of God in His teaching perfectly embraces and embodies the Word which Isaiah received from God. Christ teaches a form of fasting which is exactly in line with Isaiah’s vision of the fast which is pleasing to God.
“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Godly fasting is done in the heart where one repents and comes to love those who are oppressed and in need. Zacchaeus the repentant tax collector fulfills the expectation of Isaiah 58 for he stops oppressing the poor through fraud and threat and instead stretches out his hand to help them. Zacchaeus repents of unjust contracts and those made by force that oppress people and financially crush them. He repents at getting ahead and getting wealthy at the expense of those who cannot defend themselves from him.
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. Luke 19:8-9)
Zacchaeus practices the self denying fasting which God proclaimed in Isaiah 58. In the Slavic Orthodox tradition, Zacchaeus’ story is the prelude to beginning Great Lent.
There are some echoes that I hear that may be a bit more obscure. For example, I think the miracles which Jesus does on the Sabbath which liberates one of God’s chosen people from the oppression of sin and disease is the kind of fast that God advocates in Isaiah. So too were the acts which fed the hungry disciples on the Sabbath day (see Matthew 12; Luke 6, Luke 13-14; John 5, John 9). While the reaction of the Jewish leadership is to take offense at Jesus breaking the Sabbath laws of the Torah, God is clear in Isaiah 58 that the fast He has in mind releases people from injustice and bondage and slavery of all kinds. The ritualized fast which results in acts of self deprecation – ashes, sackcloth, tears, kowtowing and prostrations – none of these has God’s approval. God’s fast liberates His people from all forms of oppression including poverty, hunger and homelessness.
Throughout the Gospels are scattered stories which show Jesus fulfilling the conditions and terms which God said through Isaiah would be pleasing to Him. Jesus in his merciful teachings and miracles reveals the justice of God and the true nature of fasting which liberates others from oppression. Fasting is thus related to our business dealings, our politics, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat the poor.