Scriptural Manna: Justice, mercy, and faithfulness

July 15, 2015

Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.

By Marco A. Grimaldo

You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble!  You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin.  Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  These are the more important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either. (Matthew 23:23)

A couple of years ago,  I joined a group of civic and religious leaders who decided to fast to show solidarity with millions of people in the U.S. illegally who were  suffering from the consequences of a broken immigration system.  Several took up residence in tents on the National Mall.  I couldn’t be away from work all of those days, so I didn’t have the same support network that other fasters could offer one another. 

As a group, we decided on a handful of rules that would be important to us while fasting together.  First, we knew that the experience would be easier if we could form a community – a shared burden, so to speak.  And so we committed that every time someone new came to join us, we would listen to one another’s stories. This was honored even when members of Congress and President Obama visited.  Second, we committed to prayer throughout the day as visitors joined us, and every evening we prayed together for our fast, especially for those who were separated from their families due to immigration policy or who daily feared deportation or arrest.

Altogether, I completed seven days of a water-only fast, and several of those days I was of on my own.  I had to set my own regimen in order to hold to the rules we chose for ourselves, especially prayer.  I am grateful for noontime prayers at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian fellowship near my office, and I can’t tell you how much this helped. 

There are many places in the Bible where fasting is required both ritually and as a solution to a particular problem.  But fasting alone is not enough. The overall rules we set for ourselves as a community really made a difference. Perhaps this is what Jesus was trying to teach the Pharisees about justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Focusing on building community, a committed prayer life, and attention to the needs of others made my experience of fasting for a few days all the more rich.  Others completed 22 days of a water-only fast.  I rejoined the group on the last day to be a witness as they broke the fast by taking communion. 

We must continue to do what God requires. But deeply held values like justice, mercy, and faithfulness - and I would add prayer and community - make our relationship to God and one another, all the more meaningful. 

Marco A. Grimaldo is the associate for Latino engagement at Bread for the World.

"Fasting alone is not enough."

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