Do ‘Not Hide Yourself From Your Own Flesh’
Sarah has a good challenge for us in her latest post: what is a theological response to this disparity in underemployment for people of color?
For two millenia, the Christian church has understood the four Gospels in terms of Isaiah. It is the most quoted book of the OT in the NT, and in particular, Isaiah 40-66 has provided the basic understanding of what Jesus has done. So it’s only appropriate to look at one particularly powerful passage, Isaiah 58, for a glimpse of a response.
This chapter is really about worship. The prophet speaks of Israel’s sins, and responds to Israel’s attempted penance. The people ask, “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?” The response they get is
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.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD? (vs. 3-5)
Yahweh sees this fasting as a self-serving justification, like when a politician stands with this wife after infidelity and apologizes, telling how he “hurt” lots of people. This contrition is false contrition because it is a lament for lost power – and as the prophet calls to the elite of Israel, the true nature of this lament is to hedge their power, to get back to that place where they can oppress their workers, compete and jocky for more power.
So what does a true fast look like?
Is not this 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 him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (vs. 6-7)
The correct way to fast, the correct way to worship, is not to deny yourself in order to regain your power, but to deny yourself in order to give to another.
Think about this for a second. What does fasting have to do with breaking “every yoke?” Calvin said that the essence of the Christian life is to deny yourself. Why? For the sake of your neighbor. Right worship is not so much connected with right belief as with ethics, with breaking all oppression, with bringing the homeless into your house, with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.
This phrase “hide yourself from your own flesh” is perhaps the most interesting phrase of the passage. Who is “your own flesh” here? The context makes it clear: the hungry, the homeless, the naked. So in not giving, not breaking yokes, not overcoming oppression, we are hiding ourselves from ourselves, those others who are us.
So what is an initial Biblical response to the underemployment of people of color? It appears that the first response is to realize they are our own flesh. What is happening to them is happening to us. Once we fully realize this – which means we change our practice -
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday. (vs 8-9)
The end of “pointing of the finger” is a start (stop blaming the poor!), the end of speaking wickedness goes further, and healing springing up is the end.
So what does God think of these underemployed people of color (along with all people of course!)? Apparently he sees their welfare as a part of the worship due to him, and apparently only then will
your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
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