Saturday After Ash Wenesday

Readings: Is 58: 9b-14 / Ps 86: 1-6 / Lk 5: 27-32

As we seek to strengthen our faith and devotional discipline through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial, today’s readings offer both guidance and comfort. We begin with the prophecy of Isaiah, presumably written as many have returned from Babylonian exile to rebuild, along with those who remained in Palestine, the nation of Israel. Specifically, our reading addresses “true fasting,” or the social and personal justice that should inform our daily activities. In this case, the prophet Isaiah exhorts us not only to “remove from [our] midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech” but also to “bestow [our] bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”  Moreover, Isaiah proclaims that if we truly honor the Sabbath “by not following [our] ways and seeking [our] own interests,” then we shall “delight in the Lord.”

From the Book of Psalms, David’s prayer in time of distress is a beautiful individual lament recalling, with confidence, God’s response to our “true fasting” – salvation and justice. Despite his situation, “poor and oppressed,” David remains “loyal” – he is God’s “servant” crying out for help, knowing that “in this time of trouble I call, for you will answer me.” Thus, our Old Testament readings offer not only clear guidance to the actions appropriate for this season but also assurance of God’s preference for mercy.

Our gospel lesson reinforces this theology of mercy as Jesus reminds us that, in the calling of Levi, the tax collector, God loves each and every human being. Even in our lowest depths of detachment, we can experience the renewing comfort of God’s love by simply “leaving everything behind” and “following” Jesus who himself declared “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Ken Fleischer
Theology & Religious Studies