Daily Reflection for July 11, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 11  •  Greatmartyr Euphemia the All-praised


A change of fortune strikes the hardest when it strikes unexpectedly. But, he who expects the stroke and guards himself against it beforehand, should he then be surprised? King Charlemagne the Great ordered his sons to learn a trade and his daughters to learn to spin wool in order to be able to earn a living should their fate change. The famous and renown Belissarius, a great general and a great conqueror, was slandered by the envious before the king and on the basis of these slanders was blinded and his estate taken away from him. The blind Belissarius sat before the gates of Rome and begged for alms saying to passers-by: “Give alms to Belissarius whom fortune raised on high but was toppled by envy and deprived of his sight!” The righteous Job says: “Is not a man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of a hireling?” (Job 7:1). Therefore, one must be as a watchful guard and prepared for all that may happen. What is there that cannot happen to a man? And yet, in every suffering one must have hope in God. On the dunghill in all his festering sores, the Righteous Job cried out: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!” (Job 13:15). (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

“Cry aloud with strength, and spare not: lift up your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their sins, and to the house of Jacob their lawlessness. They seek Me day by day, and desire to know My ways. As a people who did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God, they now ask Me about righteous judgment, and desire to draw near to God, saying, ‘Why have we fasted, but You did not see it? Why have we humbled our souls, but You did not know it?’ Because in the days of your fasts, you seek your own wills, and mistreat those under your authority. If you. fast for condemnations and quarrels, and strike a humble man with your fists, why do you fast to Me as you do today, so your voice may be heard in crying? I did not choose this fast, and such a day for a man to humble his soul; nor if you should bow your neck like a ring and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself, could you thus call such a fast acceptable.
            “I did not choose such a fast,” say the Lord; “rather, loose every bond of wrongdoing, untie the knots of violent dealings; cancel the debts of the oppressed; and tear apart every unjust contract. Break your bread for the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house. If you see a naked man, clothe him, nor shall you disregard your offspring in your own household. Then your light shall break forth as in the morning, and your healing shall spring forth quickly. Your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of God shall cover you. Then you shall cry out and God will hear you. While you are still speaking, He will say ‘Behold, I am here.'”
(Isaiah 58:1-9)

We don’t like to read passages like the one above from Isaiah. Neither did Israel like hearing those words. The whole of chapter 58 is essentially a condemnation of “scoreboard” faith, using fasting as the illustration. The first part condemns the normal approach to “fasting” taken by the Israelites (and us…). They had fasted and cried out to the Lord lamenting that He had not seen it. They “humbled their souls,” but He did not know it. They were dutifully marking down each score, keeping track of their accomplishments. But God answers them. He does not “see” their fast or their humility because neither was a true fast or true humility. During the “fast,” they sought their own wills, mistreated others, struck humble men with their fists, etc. He tells them that even if they hung their heads and spread sackcloth and ashes underneath themselves, it would not be acceptable after the actions of their “fast.”

But in the second half (not all of which is quoted) of the chapter, the Lord through the prophet describes what an acceptable fast is, and it has nothing to do with keeping score: loose every bond of wrongdoing, untie the knots of violence, cancel the debts of the oppressed, tear up unjust contracts, break bread for the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked, raise your offspring in righteousness. It is not so much what they do; rather it is what they are. Then what? “Your light shall break forth as in the morning,” and a long list of ways that God blesses them, even to not only hearing them, but before they are done speaking, saying “I am here!” No scorekeeping for the Lord. Only righteousness and charity.

The fast is only the illustration for an acceptable offering to the Lord. You can change the word “fast” to “prayer,” “outreach,” “charity,” or any other virtue. If anything is done as simply a “work,” piling up works like goals or points, it is for naught. And yet, we are all tempted to look at our relationship with the Lord that way. His love for us is unconditional, and the only acceptable fast or virtue is unconditional love to and for each other. Remember the thief on the Cross? His scoreboard was woefully lacking in a lifetime scoring virtually nothing. But the one time he had a chance to truly be like God, he was. We need to stop keeping score. It’s a loser’s game.