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?
When I read this passage this morning I thought of something Nelson Mandela said in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, about both the oppressed and the oppressor needing be liberated. The quote is “the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
I believe this to be true, but it is hard to wrap my mind around the victimizer also being a victim. And yet I know from my own experience that when I am filled with hate, that hate overwhelms all that is good in me. It takes over my life, and try as I might, I cannot really love or care about myself or anyone else as long as I am filled with hate - or resentment or any other strong negative emotion. It runs and ruins my life. If there was a magic wand that could be waved to remove hatred in all of its forms, I would wave it.
There is no magic wand, alas, but there is Christ. There is prayer. There is forgiveness - of the other, and of self. In Sunday’s message I spoke of rooting out the racism that lives in me, and I was serious about that. I know that there are things I believe about the way things are, and about other people, which are untrue, and which are based in the systemic racism that is ingrained in our current reality. I may not know what those things are right this minute, but I can be sure they are there.
For example - when a white person claims to be “colorblind” they may think they are treating the other as equal, when in fact they are making a racist statement,. By claiming not to see color, they are denying that a person of color has an entirely different life experience than they do. In most cases, they grew up in completely different cultures, they had different access to education, healthy food, opportunities for advancement.
When I was in seminary, I often helped classmates polish their papers before they turned them in. I would read them, then make some edits and suggestions. One classmate, whom I knew had graduated from college with honors, seemed not to know the rules of grammar or spelling at all, yet I knew she had written many essays and research papers. When I asked a mentor why that was the case, he pointed out that I went from a highly rated high school to a college that received a great deal of money with which to make sure the education provided was top notch. She had gone from an inner city school to an historically Black college which did not have access to the kind of funding mine did, so although we had the same degrees, the quality of education was vastly different. These differences are important, and the color blind person chooses not to see them.
To break the yoke of racist oppression, we must look first into ourselves, to see when and how we contribute to the system of oppression in which we live. Once we recognize our own sin, then we must stand up against that oppression - in order to free not only our siblings but also ourselves.
God of freedom, enable us to look at ourselves and our society honestly, that we might open the doors of the prison of hatred, release all held captive, and break the yoke of oppression and injustice. Amen.