Lenten Reflections: Loosing the Bonds of Injustice
A Liberian girl sits on her mother's lap during church. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
Wednesday, Feb. 13 (Ash Wednesday)
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
By Rev. Sandra Hasenauer
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” (Isaiah 58:6-8a, NRSV)
And so we set off, into the observance of Lent. Perhaps, more accurately, we creep sheepishly into it, or we cower a bit fearfully as we take that first, tentative step. Lent is not an easy season. It causes us to take stock, to seek forgiveness, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy.
Today’s lectionary passages address fasting, worship, religious observance. I can’t help but think of the times I’ve been asked, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not of a religious tradition that practices this ritual sacrifice at this time of year, but I live in an area of the Unites States that is heavily infused with a religious tradition that does, which has turned it into a more cultural thing around here.
Everyone in my community simply assumes that if you’re at all religious, you give something up for Lent. I can see the benefit to it, of course, that idea that we’d spend several weeks without something precious to us to keep us in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I have often even practiced it myself as part of my own spiritual discipline for the season. However, as is the case with so many things when they become habit, the idea of giving up something for Lent has, for too many people, become simply something you do at this time of year. A health plan, for many; a required bothersome annoyance for others. Many faithful do still hold to the meaning behind the sacrifice, of course, but for many others, as celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is fond of saying, they’ve “lost the plot.”
Isaiah speaks to that here: the fast that God chooses is not giving up chocolate. Rather, the fast that God chooses is to break free the bonds of injustice, oppression, poverty, hunger, homelessness. I am strongly reminded in these weeks that there are those who fast every day, not from religious choice, but from lack of food security. They go hungry not as a spiritual practice, but because they simply don’t have food. There is no “giving something up for Lent” for people who have nothing left to give up.
In these next weeks of Lent, rather than thinking about giving something up, I choose to think in terms of what I’ll take on. How will I engage, in very specific ways, in loosing bonds of injustice? How will I engage in breaking yokes? How will I share bread, cover nakedness, give homes to the homeless? May I then witness Christ’s light breaking forth like the dawn, and God’s healing springing up in the world.
Rev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA.
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