“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:3-5 ESV
[Jesus said:] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:23-28 ESV
Patty and Violet were making mud pies together. They took a hose and added water to some dirt, then sloshed it around with their feet and mixed it around with their hands. Then they sat down in the mud and started working on their mud pies. When Charlie Brown walked by, Patty and Violet were very dirty. Their hair was messy, and their dresses and arms and legs and faces were all streaked with mud. Charlie Brown told them what a mess they were. “Wait until your mothers see you!” he warned them. But the girls couldn’t understand what the problem was. “Why? What’s wrong? We’ve got our aprons on!” they said.
God’s people were just as silly as Patty and Violet. They had turned away from God and sinned in many ways against him, but they thought that they were very righteous because they went without food and sat in ashes and wore rough, scratchy sackcloth against their skin. They seemed to be very religious when they did this, but even when they fasted they also were fighting and quarreling and even hitting each other with their fists! They were enjoying their solemn fasts and at the same time being unfair to their workers and taking advantage of them. They couldn’t understand why God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to warn them that they weren’t pleasing God with their fasting. Just as Patty and Violet thought their aprons would cover them and keep them clean from all the mud they were playing in, God’s people thought their fasting would keep them clean from sin and keep them right with God.
God doesn’t look at a few nice or religious things we do, but he looks inside, at our hearts. He looks for love and trust and obedience, and if he doesn’t see that, it doesn’t matter what we do to look righteous. The Lord will judge us as sinful and wrong based on what is in our hearts. This is a really scary thought, because we all have thoughts of anger and selfishness and rebellion against God inside ourselves. No one can ever be right with God in the heart. But Jesus came with a heart that was perfectly loving and obedient to his Heavenly Father. Jesus paid for all our sins, including the sins of our hearts, when he died for us on the cross. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven every day, and God sends us his Holy Spirit to give us new hearts of faith and trust.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us so that all our sins could be forgiven. Please give us new and better hearts every day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004, p. 59.