Justice as Asceticism: Part 2


Part 2

So the question is, what does asceticism look like for us?

Remember, our transformation involves one another.  Not only does transformation require being together, it requires doing together.  No love without loving, no service without serving.  What if we re-thought what fasting meant?  What if, instead of our fasting being the means to something else, the saving of money, the discipline of the body or the creation of more time, our fasting is itself who we are to become?  What if what we do by fasting is exactly what we are supposed to be?

Let me read to you from Isaiah 58, where Isaiah is speaking as a messenger of God:

58.6  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?
7  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?
8  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. [1]

In this passage, our fast is to do justice.  Fasting is not first and foremost a ‘giving up,’ unless of course, one must first give up injustice to do justice.  Fasting in Isaiah is focused outward, it is focused on those in need.  Jesus, according to Luke, opens his ministry by quoting Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4.18-19).

Justice in scripture is not simply about giving a person their due, which is the classical definition of justice.  Justice is not procedural regulations which enforce and individual’s rights and duties, and punish those who break the law.  Justice is not primarily about retribution.  In scripture, justice is about restoration.  Justice is about restoring the land to those who have lost it, about placing a limit on the length of time over which a debt can be called in.  Justice is both providing for those in need, the sick, the poor, the blind, the captive, the oppressed, as well as enabling them to care for themselves.  It is not only about restoring people to their full abilities, but restoring people to their full roles as beloved members and participants in their communities.

While we could spend hours talking about any one of these elements of justice, I want to focus on one that I think is crucial for us as Orthodox Christians and citizens of the United States.  All you have to do is stand by the gleaming, 20 foot tall, high-tech U.S. border fence, look to the south over the 5 foot corrugated iron fence of Mexico, and you can see that we are wealthy.  The U.S. consumes 80% of the used resources in the world.  We have a fraction of that population.  We are wealthy.  Not all of us are terribly wealthy, and we are good at hiding the poor who do live among us in ghettos, but most of us reading this have some level of wealth, even if it is only the opportunity to gain wealth.  Wealth is not just money.  It is capital, it is the opportunity to gain an education, to work in a productive manner.  I live on a student stipend, and I have lots of school debt.  But I live in a beautiful apartment, I have a car, I eat regularly, and I know, that someday in the future, hopefully a long-time in the future, I will inherit from my mother a beautiful house on the Pacific Ocean. In the world we live in, I am wealthy.

[1] All Biblical Quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.