We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fast Well Spent

Jesus preferred an adulterous woman to a crowd of hypocrites. He said “Let he who has not sinned be the first to cast the stone” (Jn 8: 7). We who fast have taken our stand on the side of prisoners, a controversial choice. As we end this fast today, we recall the story from a position of weakness, one that some might confuse with submission. We do look down with shame, but we have reason not to doubt.

To begin with, we wonder about the words that Jesus drew in the ground. It was like a line in the sand that he warned them not to cross. With our eyes on the signs of the times, that line looks like it has been trampled over, just as Guantánamo detention facilities continue to operate, past the line drawn by President Obama. Clearly we would not be the first to cast a stone today, but what kind of stone is a fast anyhow?

Consider the cubic zirconia, a commonly sold, imitation diamond. Some have been fooled that the ring on their finger is a genuine diamond. When they discover the truth of the ersatz stone, they sense a greater betrayal in their disingenuous lover. Can the lover ever be true? This disillusionment pains us on the occasion when by executive order Guantánamo Bay’s detention facilities should have been closed (1).

Similarly false, a Judas Priest refers to an unfaithful servant of God, someone who acts like the Judas who sold out his master, Jesus. Many have sold their principles in favor of privileges. At first they may have a false sense of security, as Judas had when he was persuaded by the High priests of his good intentions. But when they see the devastating impact of their decisions on others, they sense in themselves the enemy of the good. What they once understood, loved, and what they held dear, they have witlessly destroyed. Before they even come to their senses, the damage is done. They have given up their ultimate treasure; and when learning that they have a following of fallen angels, they despair. The theme of God's punishment of the vainglorious is common in the prophetic tradition of Israel.

The Book of Samuel tells the story of two Judas Priests, Hophni and Phinehas. These two sons of the Prophet Eli abuse their status as priests. They intimidate people to let them use meat offered in sacrifice for their own purpose, and subjecting women for sexual advantage. They ignore the rebuke of their father, who receives a message of doom from God. It comes at last after Hophni and Phinehas rally the people to war against the Philistines, leading them into battle with the Ark of the Covenant. The defeat is absolute. The Philistines romp, and among the dead of Israel’s Army lie the sterile bodies Hophni and Phinehas. Even worse, the Ark is captured. Why wasn’t God the defender of his people? Was their God false or just a powerless God? Had God abandoned Israel? No, God was betrayed by the self-righteous vainglory of Hophni and Phinehas. God would prove his goodness through his servant David.

The story of David’s victory over Goliath gives us fasters great hope. First, in the image of him as a shepherd we can see that God will bless our endeavor to protect a sheeply people from harm. The wolves who we must defend against are the policies of death. We would do anything to save the lost sheep who have been made into prison guards at Guantánamo. We take ourselves as an offering just as David went to Saul convinced he was worthy to be the champion of his people. Second, just as he took his sling, we take our weapon of nonviolence. The sling was a weapon of specialization appropriate in its own way against a far off adversary, just as our fast aims effectively at the far off lost. Third, we should not underestimate ourselves, for like David whose youth was questioned, age is no indication of our might. Otherwise, why would Saul offer David his armor if the youth hadn’t the strength of body to fill it? But unlike Saul who trusted in his sword, we trust in God, our rock, to pierce our enemy’s skull.

Finally, this fast is action taken in love. Jesus in the model of our fast, especially in the resistance he showed to comfort, privilege and supremacy. The depiction of him in the Gospel of Matthew shows us the champion with purity of will. When Satan tempts him to turn stone into bread he says “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Here, Matthew seems to want us to recognize the Davidic quality of Jesus’ reliance upon God. Ultimately, the fast has positioned us in a place to recognize the same. We have to see that our eyes fail us, that we cannot bring about victory with any other power of will than that of God. A fast of this kind has signified our admittance that God alone brings justice. We would rather admit defeat now, than blindly deceive ourselves as Hophni and Phinehas did; it is better to concede that U.S. imperialism defeats us, than to submit to vainglory in a fast only for results. We have not fasted to prove ourselves worthwhile and serious. Credibility comes when we champion not ourselves, but God.

So if we are sure that the rock in our hands is God, then we have a rosetta stone to interpret Jesus' protection of the adulterous woman. We remember the scene as a face off between Jesus and a crowd about to stone her. We find ourselves in the crowd, among a self-righteous people. We want to be like Jesus, but how? With the two hands of nonviolence:

With our weak hand, we must pity the crowd around us. Before we get to where Jesus stands, we have to see the place we have in the crowd. From the challenge Jesus makes to us, our own simplicity and sinfulness should be obvious. Fortunately, this helps us recognize the same in the crowd.

With our strong hand, we must challenge them. God's promise of victory comes on the condition that we enter the fray. Like David, we have to know that we only represent the cause of God's mercy. This is like David's strategic choice of weaponry, of no use in hand to hand combat, but nonetheless effective in the right hand. With our pitiable offering, we who fast nonviolently trust in the tactic of love to persuade.

One hand takes away, the other restores. We withhold cooperation, we delegitimize suffering, yet we befriend the enemy. Put together like hands in prayer, this fast can place us with Jesus in victory. As Jesus taught us in signs of compassion, healing, and even temperament, a prince of peace uses simple and sinful people, adulterous and defiled, to reveal the sin of a self-righteous community. Acknowledging ourselves as complicit in this sin purifies the Judas priest in each of us for the genuine activity our baptism made us for. In fasting we practice Jesus’ temperament; his was a patience accrued through his treasure of God; so the fast is our way to spend ourselves to afford something greater than illusory justice. So even as we challenge President Obama’s broken promise, our fast calls him to glorify God; it gives priestly witness that God’s promise is fulfilled. It is no cubic zirconia offered by a disingenuous lover, but the promise of true solidarity.

1. “Sec. 3. Closure of Detention Facilities at Guantánamo. The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/closureofguantanamodetentionfacilities/

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