Saturday, January 15

Lenten Reflection: Seeking an “acceptable” fast…

Lenten Reflection: Seeking an “Acceptable” Fast…

9 January 2005

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

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 58.3b-7

It has been three days now since we returned from a visit to Gaza and I have been unable to stop thinking about it. Images of shelled neighborhoods and children playing in the rubble of their demolished homes continue to fill my mind. The sounds of nightly shelling and explosions that made sleep difficult continue to distract me. The faces of the people whose lives we entered only for a brief time and the stories of their dispossession and death they implored us to hear continue to consume me.

“Tell our story…Please, tell our story.”

We had the privilege of visiting several families living in the Khan Younis refugee camp with our friends from the Culture and Free Thought Association—a group that MCC partners with that works with children and women.

On the western edge of Khan Younis, we visited that area of the refugee camp where only days before seventeen families had been made homeless by the Israeli military’s incursion into the camps. Khan Younis is only one of the many refugee camps that the Israeli military invades on a regular basis, in response to claims of “terrorist” attacks on illegal settlements and military outposts in Gaza. People, mostly children, were wandering through the remnants of what was a large neighborhood and market area. A small group was sitting in front of one of the only homes that was left standing. When they saw us they immediately began to describe the events of the last few days. One man brought us into the home the group was sitting in front of where only two hours before we arrived, an Israeli missile crashed through the roof of the room where a two-year-old had been sleeping. She was not injured, nushkur Allah. We looked out the back door of the house to see the Israeli watchtower in the not-too-far distance, but not for too long as he feared more shooting if they saw us looking too intently in that direction.

“Tell our story—wait, just one more minute” he turned and said to the young woman from the Culture and Free Thought Association who was helping us with translation, and trying to move us along as shooting in the distance grew louder from the checkpoint where we had been only twenty minutes before. “Just one thing you must do for me, ” he said looking back at us, straight into our eyes, “Please, tell our story.”

Christ has died. Whence the resurrection?

I have been sitting here trying to write, trying to articulate some relevant reflection upon Palestinian experiences here for a Lenten audience. But after this experience in Gaza, any reflection upon Lent or any other religious ritual or season seems difficult to undertake. Maybe even a little trivial. Definitely irrelevant if it does not engage both myself and the reader in a critical reflection on “Christian praxis” when it comes to engaging the injustices here.

Lent is often seen as a time of somber reflection, of humility, of penance and repentance. Lent is often associated with self-denial, especially in the form of fasting. And the writer of Isaiah spoke strongly of the Lord’s requirements when the people of God participate in such rituals.

We are told that any fasting that only serves our self-interest and contributes to the oppression of the weak and the marginalized is not only what God does not want, but what God abhors. Only the fast that moves beyond empty, conscience-soothing ritual and steps into the action of working towards the liberation of all people from oppression—an oppression that we are often the beneficiaries of—is acceptable. Indeed, it is demanded.

All our beliefs will not absolve us of our sins.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me…And just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25.31-46).

So this Lenten season, we will fast and we will pray. But Gaza will still be under attack. Beit Lahiya’s children will continue to be slaughtered beyond recognition. The shelling will continue to deny Khan Younis her sleep.

During this season of Lent, if we cannot respond to their cries, if we cannot make them our own, if the starting point of any Lenten reflection is not “My God, my God, why have you forsaken them? Us?”—then all of our prayers, our fasts, our rituals are not only a nefarious exercise of veiled self-interest but an active participation in the crucifixion of the Christ we only know in the children, women, and men of Gaza.

Christ has died. Whence the resurrection?

Timothy Seidel
Co-Peace Development Worker
Mennonite Central Committee - Palestine

(For a Lenten reflection from a Palestinian perspective, please visit the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center at

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