As a child a literal sense of dread overtook me late on Saturday afternoons. The euphoria of a day without school was always curtailed by what inexorably came next; the shackling restraint of Sunday. “No TV on Sunday,” or “No football on Sunday,” or “No waterfights on Sunday” were some of the more common reminders of family policy. When Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or HeeHaw (the later was forbidden) came on TV Saturdays at dusk, the weekly doom overtook me. I hated Sundays.
After starting to work full time I began to really appreciate weekends. But what I mostly looked forward to was Saturday. Saturday was my day, the day I was completely free to do what I wanted. I felt like a king after deciding to pay somebody to mow my lawn for me, giving me even more time for Saturday leisure. I often found myself watching Sportscenter at 11:59pm on Saturday night struggling to admit that it was finally over. I jam-packed Saturdays so full of mountain biking, soccer, coaching kids’ sports teams, shopping, and TV, that Sundays became a day of rest and recovery out of physiological necessity, not religious conviction. It was a day of rest for the wrong reasons.
This began to change recently. As my desire to be close to God has grown, I’ve naturally found myself wanting to do things that make every day seem like Sunday. I find my affinity for Saturday vs. Sunday a great barometer of my overall spirituality: if I look forward to “me binges” on Saturday, my natural man is winning. If I want to spend my Saturday as if it were a Sunday (reading the scriptures, pondering, praying), I can tell I’m on the right track.
So within my personal context of being a long-time Sabbath breaker, I was shocked recently as I read Isaiah chapter 58; more specifically as I listened to the audio commentary for the chapter provided at www.isaiahexplained.com (a fabulous website, by the way). Nephi and Moroni and Jesus, all of whom saw our day, all recommend the words of Isaiah, because his words describe both ancient Israel and us (modern-day Israel) in the last days (see 3 Nephi 23:1-3). Isaiah’s description of how we would break the sabbath shocked me with its accuracy and insight. He describes a seemingly dedicated people who are deceived by their own counterfeit religiosity. They should recognize something is amiss, he suggests, because they hate fasting (it afflicts their souls), and their prayers are not being answered. The reasons? They continue to do their own will on Sunday, they aren’t relieving the poor and oppressed, dealing their bread to the hungry, and inviting the poor to enjoy the bounty God has given them—particularly those in their own families:
1…shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
3 ¶Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8 ¶Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.
13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
The Isaiah Institue Translation of verses 6 and 10 brings additional insight:
Verse 6: “Is not this the fast I require…to set the oppressed at liberty and abolish all forms of subjection?”
Verse 10: “if you will give of your own to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then shall your light dawn amid darkness…”
Isaiah’s combined treatment of meaningless fasting and sabbath desecration is particularly interesting in light of our modern practice of “Fast Sunday.”
Fasting from what?
We get bent out of shape when we go without food for a few hours, when what the Lord wants is a people focused on abolishing all forms of subjection, giving of our own to the hungry, and satisfying the needs of the oppressed. He’s asking us to fast (abstain) from the greed that underlies our capitalistic motivations. Why would I care about making a bunch of money if I’m going to give away all my excess? Does this mean my monthly, fast-Sunday induced pain and suffering is in vain until I stop hoarding my excess and sharing with the poor and needy? Does this mean my Sunday “worship” is meaningless to the Lord because I sit around watching football, engaging in lavish family parties (lavishness is relative; compare yourself to the Saints in Africa eating one meal a day), talking about business with my ward brethren, and generally doing my own thing? Wow. Maybe I should stop faking this whole deal and either start doing it right or not do it at all.