When I was working at a thrift store, we had a toy section that parents would use as a play area for their children while they shopped. (The effort it took to keep that area clean would in itself make a wonderful metaphor for the effort we are undertaking in Lent.) One little girl came up to the cash register, carrying a stuffed animal and a piece of play money she'd gotten out of some game or other. She handed the toy to me, then held out the “money”; I took it and pretended to put it away, then gave her back the toy, all with very great ceremony to match her earnestness. She went away beaming – she'd done all the right things, just like Mommy, and the toy was hers. Of course it wasn't, and she wasn't carrying it when they left.
Israel, in today's first reading, is that child. They've done all that God asked of them, they've gone through all the right motions and done all the right things...why isn't God doing His part? “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” Through the prophet they have their answer: they are fasting, but there is no reality behind it, it is a counterfeit. “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” They have abandoned the Law: a fast that ends with quarreling is no fast at all. More, the fast that God wishes is not merely a matter of making oneself hungry, but of answering the need of those who are already hungry; those who have no clothing, no home, who are imprisoned, who are oppressed. If any of that sounds familiar, it should; we will soon meet the New Testament version of this.