We are about a week from the start of Lent this year. Now, traditionally we would all be thinking and discussing what we should give up for Lent. I’m not from a faith tradition that actually gives up food every friday, though that is one option. Most of the time we pick something, like chocolate, or tv, or even facebook to forego during Lent. It’s meant to help us focus on Jesus, as we are reminded of His sacrifice every time we make our own small sacrifice. But this year our church is having small bible study groups for Lent, so we should be giving up a given amount of time each week, and hopefully spending more time in the Bible.
Now we have had classes before, and this is a little different. But the topics themselves are pretty basic, at least for someone like me who has done a lot of bible reading, and in depth study for decades. I’m also already part of two or three small groups at church, so I see this as yet another thing aimed more at those who aren’t part of the 10 percent of those who go to classes, lead worship, contribute food for potlucks, etc. I will be part of a group, mainly because one is being held on our side of town that will fit into our schedule. But I started thinking, maybe I should have some sort of fast anyway.
So, I was trying to decide whether to skip a meal or two on fridays, or to give up chocolate, which is actually quite difficult for me. A verse, more of a fragment, popped into my head and forced me to dig through the concordance of my study bible until I found it. It’s quite famous actually, from Isaiah 58. The snatch I remembered started with loosening the bonds of the oppressed. Of course, in context, there is a lot more, including a condemnation of those who exploit their workers, are quarrelsome or violent, then expect God to hear them simply because they are fasting.
Okay, I’m not sure what to do with that part. I don’t have a business, so I don’t see how any of it applies. If you do, you might want to look at how you treat your employees. Perhaps a fast from saying whatever pops into your head might be appropriate. But I was led to the next part, the part that was famous for being motivation for the civil rights movement, and for activist priests in South American dictatorships. Somehow though, I don’t think I’m being called to start some movement against injustice.
How about untying the cords of a yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking said yoke? I know the picture here is of a draft animal, and unhitching them from the plow or whatever. But setting the oppressed free obviously refers to people. I’m not at all sure I know who the oppressed are here. I know the verses typically have been used to justify setting large groups of people free from oppressive regimes. There is no shortage of oppressive regimes around the world, but I don’t think God is calling me to go to North Korea or the Middle East for the Lenten season. Either place could be something to pray over.
Perhaps though, that is the macro interpretation of the verses. I’m looking for the micro interpretation. What on earth can I do to set the oppressed free during this Lenten season? I do have a bit of experience with being freed from oppression myself, in a spiritual sense. Might this mean, I need to be prepared, should the Lord bring someone along who actually needs deliverance? It’s possible, though pretty rare in my experience. Somehow, I suspect God has something else in mind.
I think for now, I will just keep looking at those verses. I will try to keep my spiritual ears open for whatever the Lord brings my way. I do think that there are areas in all our lives, where we are bound up, whether by habit, by addictions, by memories that we thought were long dead and buried. It’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. I think Lent would be a wonderful time to get free from something that may be tangling up our feet and making life more difficult.