In frustration, we may ask, “What do you want me to do?” We long for clarity and direction, even though we may not like the answers we receive and think we know better in making our own choices. God, through the prophet, provides clear direction: “Cease to do evil.” Isaiah revisits the actions of the people and the leaders of the nation throughout the first ten chapters and offers a summary of their evil in chapter 10: He accuses the leaders of writing crooked laws, robbing the poor, and oppressing widows and orphans. (See Isaiah 10:1-2.)
It is not enough just to stop doing evil; we must also “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed.” Isaiah looks at the people most in need, the folks at the bottom of the social scale. The prophet uses strong words, active verbs: “rescue, defend, plead.” Isaiah urges us to lift up those who have no means to come back into the community. The widows and orphans have no family structure to sustain them, no champion for their cause. Isaiah instructs us to be willing and obedient learners, to be diligent and persistent in doing good.
Bishop Reuben Job distilled John Wesley’s General Rules into three simple rules that echo the prophet. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. The Bible weds its persistent and prophetic focus on justice with personal practices of prayer, worship, and spiritual formation. Isaiah weaves those insights together in the first chapter with clarity and urgency. The words find New Testament expression in the words and life of Jesus, who announces he has come “to bring good news to the poor . . . release to the captives . . . to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18).
Holy God, help me to slow down for prayer, to stand up for the homeless and oppressed, and to breathe deeply of your love. Make me a willing and obedient servant of your compassion for all. Amen.
The prophet Isaiah brings a harsh message to the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Although they are performing sacrifices and observing feasts, they have lost their heart for God. God wants no more meaningless sacrifices but instead wants the people to repent. The psalmist proclaims a similar message from God. The people’s sacrifices have become pointless because they have forgotten God. The primary offerings that God desires are thanksgiving and ethical living. The author of Hebrews sounds a note of harmony, emphasizing that Abraham’s faith in action—not his performance of religious duties—brings him favor with God. Jesus teaches that we cannot rest on our laurels of having faith. Instead we should remain vigilant and continue to perform acts of charity, including caring for the poor, as a response to our faith.
Read Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. Consider the author’s difficult questions: Is there blood on your hands? Does your worship lead you to acts of mercy and justice?
Read Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23. How do you offer thanksgiving as sacrifice and go in the right way?
Read Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. How do you demonstrate faith as a verb, not just a noun?
Read Luke 12:32-40. God promises us a bountiful kingdom, but we cannot take our worldly possessions there. How do you work toward living as if you are already in God’s bountiful kingdom? How do you help to create it?
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