“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 cloth them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.”
In these days, I sometimes have knee jerk reactions toward the “social service crowd” or the “political activism group” within the Church. (I’ve done social service and political activism, BTW.) I do so, I believe, because there has been the tendency to replace relationship with God with the doing of things. The way the institutional church, and here I’m thinking primarily of Mainline Protestantism, has gone about all of this is often far more anthropocentric than theocentric, and I think this has greatly lessened our intimacy in relationship with God and thus the power that should be behind our doing of stuff.
Another part of why I have this knee jerk reaction, and coming out of the anthropomorphizing of Christianity, comes out of the notion that if one overthrows systems or institutions or other such things that then the evil is put away and the people will flourish. Overthrow evil, exploitative, unjust capitalism with egalitarian, virtuous, good socialism and all will be well. Overthrow “godless Communism” with “God-ordained democracy” and a glorious future will be realized. Any such things will work.
The problem is that people believe that the system, the institution in and of itself is where the evil resides. I content that it isn’t any of that. The evil resides in the hearts and minds of the people who inhabit the systems or the institutions or the bureaucracies. Overthrow capitalistic systems with socialistic systems and you will still have just as much, if not more, corruption, injustice, greed, exploitation, etc. because the hearts and minds of the leadership, the workers, everyone, are still unmoved, unchanged, or unredeemed.
If we want to overthrow evil, injustice, exploitation, and all the like, then we must change people – one heart, one mind at a time. The kind of change we require as Christians is not attainable by our own effort, but by the renewing of our minds and hearts by the Spirit of God. So, to protest against systems, to yell and scream for the downfall of the bureaucracy will get us no closer to a justice, peaceful society. If successful, there will simply be a change in the group of people who do the exploiting, etc.
Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement are all fine – people participating in our democracy, which as a former Social Studies teacher, I love. But for the Christian, we fight against what Isaiah spells out as true fasting not by attempting to overthrow the system, but my working for the change of the individuals within the system. If the people become virtuous, the system will be redeemed.
It is far easier to rail against the machine and raise a fist in protest that to come alongside another person who needs to know freedom and peace inside so that they have no need to exploit others. It is very difficult to go about the long and hard work of helping people into new life. If is sometimes embarrassing to some when we say, and this is our job as Christians, that Jesus has enabled us to have that new kind of new life – of freedom, of generosity, of graciousness, of peace, and to acquire the ability to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is very messy work, this healing of the heart and soul and mind of individuals. But only in this will our world be free of injustice, strife, and hatred.
Now, and here I’m thinking of my days in American-Evangelicalism, when we spend all our time praising Jesus and coming nosey/kneesy in prayer yet ignore the injustice, the homeless, the plight of the oppressed, then our oh so pious fasting means nothing.
I’ve got to go to work. No time, at the moment. to proof read and make corrections. That comes later…