Thursday, June 27, 2013

Isaiah 58-59 Becoming Spiritual vs. Becoming Human

Isa 58:1-5 "Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? 

Isa 59:1-3 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.

The question asked by the speaker at our church camp continues to ring in my ears: "Are we spiritual beings on a human journey or human beings on a spiritual journey?" 

All my Christian life, I've heard the emphasis on being "spiritual" - pray more, fast more, read the Bible more because our goal is to become more spiritual. But I don't hear very often about being more human - learning to respect your parents by taking care of them, learning to respect your employees and maids by treating them well, learning to respect customer service staff at the restaurant, malls, government offices with courtesy and appreciation. I must confess that I'd rather be spiritual than be human, because being spiritual does not require me to look out for others. Being spiritual is still a very much self-centred activity--it's all about me and my spiritual well-being. For me, at least for the major part of life, the goal of spiritual disciplines has been to make me more spiritual (focus on my relationship with God) rather than being more human (focus on my relationship with people).

In today's texts, we see that it's no use praying and fasting--trying to build our spiritual life--if we ignore doing the right human things viz., treating other humans well, especially those who work or serve under us. I've come to see that possessing power (whether the ecclesiastical or secular type) can make believers take short cut in treating others -- namely by "pulling rank" rather than winning support and strengthening the relationship. Whether the power is over our domestic helpers or office staff or students in our class, it is much easier to pull rank to get compliance than to win support by building good relationships based on mutual respect.

So if you think that more prayer, fasting and bible meditation alone will make you more spiritual, then let Isaiah's words shock you out of your complacency: "Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?" In other words, it is no good if all we do is focus on being spiritual. True spirituality is not developed by spiritual disciplines but by social disciplines: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

In other words, true spirituality is not measured by how much time we spent fasting or praying but how much time we spend doing the human things like helping others who are poor and needy--those with deep spiritual, mental, emotional and physical needs. If go to church faithfully but will not lift a figner or commit our time to help marginalized people like the elderly, the foreign workers and domestic helpers in our midst, then our spirituality is flawed. God loved the world and so we have to do likewise since we are spiritual beings like God.

So the haunting question again: "Are we human beings on a spiritual journey or spiritual beings on a human journey?" I've come to the conclusion the answer weighs towards the latter: We are spiritual beings (we have the Spirit) on a human journey (in order to become fully human like Jesus, full of grace and truth). In other words, our goal in life is not trying to become more spiritual but more human. We already are spiritual because we have the Spirit. So, there is no need to become "more" spiritual. We are given the Spirit in order that we can become more human, just like Jesus in the days of His flesh.

Lord, thank You we already spiritual by virtue of Your indwelling Spirit. Help us focus on being human like You did when You were on earth. Amen.

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