For those of us who purport to be of a Christian persuasion, we find ourselves in the time of year called Lent. Those are the six weeks leading up to Easter. Some Christians actively observe Lent. Others don’t even know it exists. Regardless, one of the traditional teachings of Lent is that we are supposed to give up something – meat is one of those things. Others give up everything from chocolate to exercise. It becomes more of a joke than something meaningful. And, by the way, there’s nothing in the Bible that mentions either Lent or the need to give up anything for it.
But the idea of fasting certainly didn’t begin with Christians. I read the Hebrew/Jewish scriptures and I find all manner of fasts for various and sundry occasions which are supposed to be ways of coming closer to God or obeying God’s commands.
This morning I smiled as I read in the First (or Old) Testament, the bellerin’ and whinin’ of a people who were fasting and figured it was a useless activity (besides, the scripture doesn’t say, their stomachs were growling and the thought of a tender piece of lamb would pretty much hit the spot). They complained out loud to God (yes, they talked to God and there is a transcript), “You’re not paying any attention anyway, so why are we bothering with this? Why can’t we eat what we want? You’re being unreasonable!” (Very loosely translated from Isaiah 58).
God doesn’t take well to this kind of complaining and takes to task (yes, God talks to us too) a people who think they are righteous, who think they follow God’s laws, who think they have God’s best interests at heart, and who think, because they profess to follow God that that just about covers them regardless of the situation. Seems to me that covers most of us of a Judeo-Christian background.
But God is saying, “No so fast, Bucko! You think that your fasting and false humility before me make your other misdeeds go unnoticed? You think your behavior is acceptable to me?”
So then God goes on to tell them (and us) that we can get right with God. God launches into this litany about the injustices of the world and how the people need to address those. It’s the usual stuff about letting the oppressed to go free, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving lodging to the homeless. Those who read the Second (or New) Testament will find something similar in Luke 4.
If we do all of that stuff it says right there in the First Testament scriptures, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” And not only “here I am,” but God promises if we do all this stuff, God won’t just be present and accounted for, but will take care of us in all situations.
There is a kind of quid pro quo here that God started first and follows through even though we don’t. I figure God wants to hold up God’s end of the bargain so that God can set an example for us.
I found a letter I wrote a couple years ago to a woman who was celebrating her 80th birthday. I’ve known her for most of my life, and I wanted to say something really special, something a greeting card could not convey. I wanted to put it in writing because she was beginning to lose her memory and I wanted something physical that she could read and be reminded of the kind of person she has been to me. And so I wrote (in part):
“Your love for me has been unsparing. You are a demonstration of the hospitality of God. When I have run away from you, you have always welcomed me back regardless of my transgressions (some of which I have confessed to you and others I have not). You have spread banquets before me. You and your husband adopted me as one of your children, and you were very wise parents. You never pushed me to do what was right. You set the example for what is right.
“When you have struggled, you have allowed me to struggle with you – not to support you, but to support me. Such wondrous love is this: unsparing, unselfish, unfaltering. The fact is that you are the one person who in my young life demonstrated for me what unconditional love means. I wouldn’t have known it if it weren’t for you. And I didn’t recognize it until I grew older.”
This is a woman who never finished high school, who never learned to drive a car, whose longest trip anywhere in her entire life was one time to California to visit one of her children. She is financially poor. But I can tell you that she is rich beyond measure because she has been recklessly self-forgetful when it has come to others outside of her family. She is and has been this way because she has not allowed anything or any circumstances to come between her and God. And in caring so much for others beyond her family, her own eyes have been opened to the unconditional love of God even when she has faced terrible tragedies.
For years now, I have bemoaned the decline of civility among people in our own country. The way we lash out in anger at one another over simple political disagreements is not within my understanding. Sadly, I find myself at times falling into that pit and I struggle mightily to dig my way out.
We are supposed to take care of each other regardless of our disagreements. We must be reckless in forgetting about ourselves and our own hurts, and spend that energy instead on demonstrating the love of God to others. It’s not about us, our work, our positions, our power. It’s all about God.
If we could be as recklessly caring about each other – whether we are strangers on an Internet chat or long-time acquaintances – there would be a greater opportunity for us to come to some kind of civil compromise over those issues upon which we disagree. In the process, we would lift one another up instead of constantly beating one another down. Rather than assuming we have all the answers and our opponents have none of the right ones, we could reason together to find a middle ground.
Someone would notice that kind of effort. Someone who offers unconditional love and who would smile down on us if we could offer that same unconditional love to those who extend beyond or even within bloodlines. And whether we’re observing Lent or not, regardless of our religious persuasion or lack thereof, what we could give up would be our personal claims to self-righteousness. That’s a fast that would be noticed on high.Share here: