An Ash Wednesday Fast for Justice

On Ash Wednesday Christians from a wide variety of traditions will begin the 40-day season of Lent. It is a time of fasting and repentance; of re-thinking our priorities and commitments. Some Christian leaders in San Francisco - Catholics and Protestants alike - will also be protesting the injustice that still dominates the banking industry in this country, unmasking corporate greed and dishonesty that is destroying our families.

"On Ash Wednesday," said Fr. Jose Lucero of Corpus Christi Church, "as Catholics and Protestants gather to begin their public penance in preparation for the resurrection of Jesus, we call upon Wells Fargo officials to reflect on the ways that their actions or inactions have wronged the people of San Francisco."

This year I will remind my congregation that God's realm is often difficult to discern in the midst of the chaos and distractions of the world as we know it and perceive it. Jesus was often heard repeating the refrain, "those with ears to hear, let them hear" (ex. Mark 4:9), and, "Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" (Mark 8:18). What he and the other Hebrew prophets are getting at is that the real world - the world as God sees it - is all around us and right in front of us but we struggle to see it or perceive it rightly. We are blinded by the priorities and values of the prevailing power structures of our world. Part of the Lenten fast is finding ways to allow God to remove the scales from our eyes and unplug our ears.

Repentance means rethinking things - seeing the world differently - and walking in a different way. Lent is a personal spiritual practice but it also has enormous public implications for the way Christians are to live in the world. The prophet Isaiah had some tough questions for people who practice the rituals of repentance but do not live into those rituals in their public life. The people ask God,

'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'

God replies,

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers....

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

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? (Isaiah 58:3, 5-6, TNIV)

Authentic repentance results in actions that break the bondage of injustice. This is exactly what many congregations will be doing on Ash Wednesday as they begin their Lenten fast. They are not only repenting of their individual waywardness and tendency to ignore God's way, but they are calling the institutions that make up our society to repent and change their ways.

Clergy in San Francisco - leaders of the San Francisco Organizing Project - will be speaking prophetically to Wells Fargo about the injustice of their actions and the vast suffering they have caused to thousands and thousands of families. Specifically, they will call for Wells Fargo to conduct widespread loan modifications and principal reductions for underwater mortgages and, in the wake of a San Francisco report finding that 84 percent of foreclosures were carried out with questionable legality, faith leaders will call on Wells Fargo executives to freeze all foreclosures until a full investigation is completed. If you live in or around San Francisco you can join them at 10 am in front of the Wells Fargo Headquarters at 464 California Street at Montgomery St.

It is time to heed the words of Isaiah and...

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins (Isaiah 58:1).