The Yom Kippur We All Need and Guilt We All Share
This year I have heard dozens of theories tossed around about the Jewish holiday season, replete with blood moons and shmitas and other “signs,” which may or may not be significant. But I think those things are mere distractions from what is really central to seeing the healing and refreshment that we so desire and often fast for, and the guilt we all share and need to repent from.
Simply put, isn’t Yom Kippur supposed to be a day set apart to consider how we have grieved a good God and harmed humankind? If we’re really honest, isn’t it also a day where we wonder how to fast and, sometimes, why we do not see tangible results from our fasting, when we so badly need His refreshment and change? Is it making any difference? Or should we just wear white, go through the motions and get the holiday over with?
Isaiah 58 describes people seeking Him out and wondering this very same thing. His answer has huge implications:
“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...”
God is imploring people not merely to refrain from injustice, but to WORK to undo it, to strive to see the oppressed set free, whether physically or spiritually, and to be His hands to care for and heal the people around us.
When coalition deals lead to the possible closure of Christian schools in the land or when we hear of the abuse of children in the prisons, should we not repent? Yet, we often look the other way orjustify these actions, rather than work alongside our brothers and sisters to see justice and healing come to this land.
Some might say that Isaiah was talking about sin and I am misinterpreting what he means by “injustice” with these examples. But as I’ve suggested before, isn’t sin merely injustice against God and mankind? Isn’t it basically anything that violates two commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)?
Up to here, theoretically, most people will agree. But here’s where it becomes challenging: Who was Jesus referring to as our neighbor?
This was clearly and directly answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, the story of two enemies with competing claims regarding land and rights, one putting his life on the line to save the other (Luke 10:25-37).
Think about that. The second greatest commandment in Scripture was answered with loving our “enemy” as we love our very selves! Jesus took the common interpretation of “neighbor” from being a fellow Jew to include the ultimate despised “other.”
Are we willing to lay down our lives for those who are different, those who are competing for our claim to rights, land, and more? Are Christians willing to sacrifice themselves for Muslims; are Jews willing to put their lives or reputations on the line for Palestinians and Palestinians for Jews? This is what will make our societies take notice, what will cause our minority communities to be the light they are supposed to be.
One picture I will never forget from the Egyptian revolution captured Christians forming a circle around Muslim protesters, protecting them from the advancing tanks with their own bodies. This was only one week after an Islamic group killed a large number of Christians in a suicide attack. They put their fear and hate aside and lovingly risked their lives for their Muslim neighbors. Are we ready to do that here, in our own context?
While you fast (if you do), will you also consider how we can love without regard for our reputations or even our lives for those who may give us nothing in return, who may even hate us? Instead of only praying for the blindness of others, could we pray for God to open our eyes to oppression and injustice where we have ignored it or been complicit in it, so that we can work together to be a source of healing and light?
Ultimately, this land and its inhabitants are His. It is not about Zionism or the Palestinian cause; it is not about two states or one state, or any other state solution. It is about Him first, and then how we give ourselves for each other, actively striving for an end to an unjust, exploitative society.
God knows we desperately need it and He promises to respond when we change our actions (Isaiah 58:8-9):
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”