THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
What if... / Self-Denial,
and the Road to Justice
and the Road to Justice
WEEK I / DAY V
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Scripture / Read Daniel 1:1-21
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. — Daniel 1:8
Our History and Its Legacy
Self-denial and civil disobedience can be weapons of social change. At various points in human history, principled people refused to take paths that would lead them into complicity with society’s evil systems. Instead, these heroes resisted the temptation to jettison their beliefs and values in favor of what could appear to be an easier life, or at least a life that minimized conflict.
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States is an example of a time when faithful people, trusting the words of Jesus that peacemakers are blessed (Matthew 5:8), refused to accept the injustice of a racially segregated society. These heroes civilly disobeyed laws that segregated Americans, putting themselves in danger of bodily harm as well as criminal prosecution. When the police brutalized them, most did not retaliate because they practiced self-denial in the form of non-retaliation. They could have spared themselves verbal abuse and physical pain, but through self-denial and civil disobedience they believed a more just society could emerge.
These 20th century heroes had good biblical precedent for their attitude and action. Readers of the Bible are familiar with the story of Daniel and his three compatriots, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These young men were taken as slaves to serve Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC. Jerusalem had been defeated, the beloved temple of Solomon destroyed, and God’s people had been taken into exile. According to the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar intended to create model Babylonian citizens by indoctrinating young Judeans. Stripping the young men of their Hebrew names and giving them names associated with Babylonian deities was just one way of demoralizing the newly conquered men. Another way to assert Babylonian dominance was to feed these young men at the king’s table.
Committed to their faith in God, Daniel and his friends refused to eat the king’s food. It was a simple act of defiance. It was an act of self-denial as well as civil disobedience. It might even seem to have been illogical. Yet, despite the young men eating only vegetables and refraining from the king’s rich food, they were in better condition than all those who ate at the king’s table. God had done this; God blessed the young men through their sacrifice. So powerful was this simple act of defiance that the ungodly Babylonian rulers could not help but bring justice to these men, who, as it turns out, became critical leaders, devoted to God and God’s justice in the world.
Reflection and Response
Consider the history of African-Americans in the United States. Take a moment now to thank God for the faith and fortitude of those heroes who resisted evil laws and practiced a form of self-denial which lead to sweeping social change.
Consider also how God might want to use you. Fasting can be an act of self-denial that energizes civil disobedience and can lead to positive social change. Today, as you take a break from your fast, let God speak to you from the story of Daniel. Celebrate God’s faithfulness to Daniel and his friends.
As The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must resist evil structures that demoralize and dehumanize others. Dare to be a Daniel.
Written by Dennis Edwards