Vulnerability of God invites for repentance, communion in solidarity and resistance with the vulnerable communities and nature
By Sigamoney Shakespeare
The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten meaning Spring. Traditionally believers spend a lot of time meditating, fasting, and praying during lent. Some church traditions emphasise fasting and sharing with the poor. When I was pastoring in India, Church members would fast during the lent and save rice and money that is finally brought to the church and be shared with the poor at the end of lent.
There are church members who fast and share their food every day with the weak. Different people fast differently. Some eat one meal a day, some do not take any protein and eat only vegetarian food, some eat after the sunset, and others give up pleasures, events, and celebrations. In some churches, weddings, houses, or church dedications occur before the lent or after the lent and not during the lent. The idea seems to avoid celebrations as people are fasting and meditating. In south India, women love to decorate themselves with flowers, but some do not decorate themselves with flowers during the lent.
The number forty is very significant in the Christian tradition. Moses, Elijah and Jesus’ fasting in the desert are some of the events in the bible that remind us of forty days. The book of Jonah is meaningful in today’s context to read in relation to Lent. The people of Nineveh sinned against God. Sin because of which some were enjoying the luxury of life by exploiting the weak and exploiting God’s creation. When the weak and nature is exploited, God stands in solidarity with the vulnerable. Today in the name of economic development, nature is exploited, and nature groans with its vulnerability along with the vulnerable indigenous communities who are forced out of their forest homes for mining resulting in deforestation.
In the book of Jonah, God sends Jonah to warn and tell people to stop the exploitation and destruction of the vulnerable groups of the society who are also in the image of God and nature, which reflects the image of God. Jonah runs away from Nineveh, but God shows Jonah what destruction of life means, letting him encounter a near-death experience. Jonah then goes to Nineveh to preach the prophetic message of God warning people to repent from their sins.
Lent is a time of Repentance. Historically during lent, believers, are called to repent and return to God. Therefore, Lent reminds us of the voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness, calling us to repent for the reign of God is near.
Lent is a Time of Atonement for our Sins
After listening to Jonah’s message, the people of Nineveh, including animals, fasted. They covered themselves with ashes and sackcloth to show they were mourning. Ashes remind humanity that God created human beings from dust. Whenever human beings exploit each other and exploit nature, God reminds us that we came from dust and will return to dust. The people of Nineveh humbled themselves before God covered themselves with ashes reminding themselves of their vulnerability, and God forgave Nineveh since people have repented. During the forty days of fasting, the King, ministers, common people, and enslaved people all became equal with ashes and sackcloth; hence, there was no hierarchy to exploit each other. Their repentance from arrogance and exploitative attitude changed God’s heart to accept them.
Humanity failed to walk according to the word of God to care for the vulnerable in society. God hears the cry of the vulnerable community and sends leaders through whom God liberated the vulnerable community. God sent Moses to liberate the Israelite community from Egypt. Likewise, from time to time, God sent leaders. Then Judges were sent to lead people in such a way the vulnerable of the community were not oppressed but taken care of with Justice. Then kings were sent to see that the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers were taken care of.
Vulnerability of God
Finally, the powerful God sent Jesus to save humanity from sins and establish the reign of God. The social order and hierarchy was reversed by Sending Jesus. To save the vulnerable humanity, God, the all-powerful, became vulnerable in the form of Jesus. God emptied Godself and became human, vulnerable to the point of death on the cross. We read, in Philippines 2, the Kenosis journey of Jesus. Jesus took the form of enslaved person humbled to the point of Death. Jesus was not a saviour who stood outside the vulnerable community and preached for their salvation but entered the zone of vulnerability reversing the social order of that time.
God above became God among the vulnerable, reminding humanity of its vulnerability and showing the way that is only by standing in solidarity with the vulnerable. John D. Caputo, while speaking of what must be the concern of theology, says, “to be vulnerable to the vulnerability of the other, to become weak at their weakness, to be affected by their afflicting.”
Ulrich Schmiedel brings out the characteristic of vulnerable God, saying, “God is integrated into the vulnerability of humanity.” According to Ulrich, God is interpreted as related and responsible to the vulnerable people, and the vulnerable people are interpreted as related and responsible to God. With the integration of God into the nexus of rationality and responsibility through vulnerability, God promotes the resistance against the differential distribution of dignity.
Church of God is called today to live with the vulnerable communities, the refugees, the homeless, the Dalits, the economically exploited communities and all those denied human dignity. The faithful community of believers is called to be God’s prophetic voice by standing in solidarity with the vulnerable people and exploited nature, challenging the systems of exploitation, and working towards the reign of God.
Lent calls us to deny ourselves taking up the cross with ashes on our heads. It gives a clear message that we have emptied ourselves. Having nothing to lose, we are strong to proclaim the prophetic message of God against the exploitation of people and nature. There is nothing to fear as we have a vulnerable God journeying with us.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of INSiGHT. For more Lenten meditations and articles, please visit https://archive.cwmission.org/insight
Sigamoney Shakespeare holds the position of Researcher, Korean Christianity and Culture Research Institute, Yonsei University Korea. He is also a Lecturer in Yonsei University and Coordinator SEST Master of Theology programme, Hanshin University.