Friday after Ash Wednesday

by Sarah Ann Standing

oday’s readings enrich and resonate with one another. Isaiah starts by pointing out that his people are committing righteous acts in order to be noticed, validated, and consecrated.

“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?”
— Isaiah 58:3

Yet, God tells the people they don’t need external validation (even from God), and that they always have tremendous resources to share. When they realize this, then God truly resides within them and readily appears when called upon. As the last half of verse 9 says:

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk….”
— Isaiah 58:9

If we invert this, we can see that the pointing finger and malicious talk are part of the oppression to which we yoke ourselves.

Matthew calls for new wine into new wineskins; new thoughts into new vessels. We can be renewed not through sacrifice but through mercy, even mercy towards ourselves.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
— Psalm 51:10

It is from here that we can go out and be of most use in the world. It is on this basis that we ask: “Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do….” This is the work of serving others, which does away with the yoke of our oppression.

artwork for Ash Wednesday and days following