I can’t feed on the powerless, when my cup’s already over filled.
~Temple of the Dog
Many of us during this Lenten season are embodying the ancient practice of fasting. Strictly speaking, fasting is refraining from food for an extended period rather than foregoing, say, coffee or sweets or Netflix. These other refrainings, however, intend to accomplish the same end, namely, a constant reminder that our lives are ever lived Coram Deo and our very essence and existence radically depend on His continually speaking all things into existence. We give up food to show that we believe (or at least that we want to believe) that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father who spoke all things into being through his Word and now upholds all things by the power of that same Word. In the end, then, it’s not our nutritious, gluten-free, organic, free-range, grass-feed meat nor our pub grub nor our fast food, on-the-go lunches that keep our bodies animated and nourished; rather, He sustains us by his very Word.
Fasting also calls us to reflection, to searching and being searched by Him who knows our innermost thoughts and secrets, to find if there be any evil way in us and to be cleansed in those innermost parts. To fast is to reflect on those places where we (falsely) think we find life, both biologically and spiritually. This is no less true of our desire for power than it is for food. We are power-desirous people. We seek power to feel secure, to feel in control, to not feel weak. We all want it and it pains us to lose it, pains us to be deprived of it. And we’re willing to do just about anything to obtain it.
We are controllers by nature and this is a good thing, a very piece of the Imago Dei. In the beginning God called humanity to image Him in taking dominion over all things: to be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue. To bring order to chaos and explore the hidden treasures built into creation by a good and wise Creator. The trouble of course is that, in the Fall, this image twisted into something perverse, making us power hungry and greedy for control. It brings about in us a desire to consume others; we become users, we become devourers. We’re all Voldemort now.
And [God] said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people
and their flesh from off their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces
and chop them up like meat in a pot,
like flesh in a cauldron.
Like the prophets, priests and kings of Israel and Judah before the fall of Jerusalem, we look at others as food. As something that fills us up. As something to be controlled for our own good. Rather than giving our lives to those around us, we use other’s lives for ourselves, for our own advancement, for our own climb up the ladder. This is true of husbands who are called to die for wives, but instead lord over them; true of fathers who are called to give their lives away but instead exasperate their children with rules and regulations that are, if we’re truly honest, only intended to make him look like a good dad; with a wife who seeks to control the perception others have of her home; with children who whine about supper; with eating disorders; with small group leaders who dominate discussions; with parishioners who manipulate and complain against elders and each other; with economic policies that keep the poor impoverished; with powerful nations that use violence and economic sanctions to control and manipulate other, smaller nations; with sex traffickers and pornographers who enslave women in the sex trade; and the list goes on.
The good news: Lent doesn’t end in the fast, it ends in a feast. There is a Resurrection and a Wedding Feast to come. Our greed and lust for power don’t have the last word. We come to feast with and on The Prophet, Priest and King who doesn’t devour his people but leads them as a Good Shepherd. As One who lays down His life for His sheep. As the One who offers himself as a feast for his sheep.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father,
so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven,
not like the bread the fathers ate, and died.
Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. The ‘shepherds’ of Israel feed on the poor and widowed, the weakest of society; coming to find life in the destruction of others. The true Shepherd gives Himself as food to the poor and widowed, the weakest of society. Out of himself, He feeds his sheep, filling his hungry and thirsty people with Himself. Only then, like the boy with loaves and fish, can we truly offer ourselves to others. Giving up food—fasting—is one more way to acknowledge our powerlessness and our weakness. To recognize where I am greedy for power and control, not just with food but within all areas of my life.
So, come to The Table. And feast. Feast on Him who offers himself for His people; Him in whom we live and move and have our being. Come during your fast to feast on the Word who sustains you.
May we, during Lent, be a people who find where we feed on others and repentantly give our lives to others; for, only in pouring ourselves out, only in offering lives as food for others, do we truly find that we are filled and nourished.
Josh Spears is husband to one wife, father to 3.4 children, dominator of a four square court and (most likely) nurses a mild case of trypophobia.