by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
If you don’t know why Taco Johns is suddenly selling fish tacos, it’s because we’re now a little over a week into the 40 day season of Lent. In the season of Lent, Christians typically give something up. Catholics won’t eat meat – except for fish – on Fridays in Lent. Many Christians also choose to give up other things, like sweets or alcohol.
Me? I don’t really give things up for Lent. I have a candy dish in my office, so giving up sweets is out – the temptation is just too great. And sometimes I really enjoy mixing up an Old Fashioned to sip on at the end of the day. I figure life is unpleasant enough. Why make it harder on yourself?
I mean, sure, I’ll swap out some red meat for fish tacos, but that’s just because fish tacos are delicious.
What I do during Lent is that I try to do more. I spend more time reading my Bible. I start each day in the sanctuary, not my office, so that I can have some additional prayer time. I read a daily devotional that takes me, day by day, through the season of Lent. The whole idea behind Lent is that we give up something to make more room for God in our lives, so I give up half an hour or so of what would normally be work time to spend in silent worship, instead. That seems like a good tradeoff to me.
But sometimes, I start to wonder if that’s enough. If there’s one thing that God’s good at, it’s constantly pushing you to be a better person. Could I be doing better?
I’m not talking about giving up chocolate. I’m talking about giving of myself to help others.
In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, God talks about fasting:
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
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 clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
God, the prophet insists, isn’t interested in fasting that includes humbling ourselves, giving up sweets, and sitting in sackcloth and ashes unless it also comes with work – work for justice. The fasting God wants means that we feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we house the homeless. We don’t look away from the suffering of other people – we work to relieve it.
So I guess I’m going to call my local food bank and volunteer to start working a regular shift. It’s either that, or giving up chocolate.