Friday, 19 February 2010

Is this the fast I choose?

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?                         
                                                                                                   
                                                         Isaiah 58:6-7                         
I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time with John Knox this year.  We’ve been chewing over the matter of the Scottish Protestant practice of public fasting in 1566.  For Knox, public fasting was a sign of the covenantal relationship between God and the people of God.  Its basic aim, like most Protestant disciplinary rituals, was to effect reconciliation.  And yet, it was also a very political act. 
In the Order of the General Fast, 1566, Knox railed against a whole host of matters and, in the midst of these, there is a highly critical rebuke to a society that he believed  encouraged injustice.   
He cried out against merchants who grew fat by cheating the public through the use of falsely balanced scales; 
he blasted  the  aristocracy —earls, barons and lords who oppressed their labourers just because they could; 
he condemned greedy property owners who forced their  tenants into homelessness. 
Knox called on the God of justice to intervene but he didn’t merely leave it up to God: he understood covenant relationship as something which required action not only by God, but by the people of God.  Fasting in the face of the public was an act of witness—a witness to the injustice of  humanity compared to the justice of God.  Those made invisible and silenced by injustice were  able to be seen and heard through this act of witness.  It was the fast Knox chose to highlight the iniquity of  inequity; a fast that was both spiritual and political.  Although Knox was no fan of the traditional seasons of the church year, the timing of the General Fast did just ‘happen’ to coincide with the start of Lent—perhaps a subtle attempt at continuity in the midst of change?!!
What is the fast we choose?  This Lent, rather than giving up something perhaps the fast we choose might be to take on challenging systemic structures of power—structures that reek and creak and are rotten to the core.  Structures which dehumanise those created in God’s image.  In this, I’m reminded of  Iranaeus who said ’the glory of God is a human  being fully alive, and the life of that human is the image of God.’   
God of Justice, God of compassion,                       
show us your image in those we encounter.  
Help us to be your people of justice and compassion;
Give us courage to stand up for those bowed down by the weight of injustice. 
Free us from the temptation to collude and ‘be comfortable’.  
May the fast we choose be life-affirming and love-giving, 
shining your light of hope into the world.              Amen.   

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