IT’S CURIOUS that traditional Lenten behavior should be self-centered — as in self-abasement, penance, self-denial. Sections of scripture, such as the three for today, clearly enjoin us to not settle for self-involvement and sacrifice, but to make ourselves useful: “to loose the bonds of wickedness … to share your bread with the hungry.”
Isaiah has numerous suggestions as to how we should care for others, and he mocks those who “fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with the fist.”
The psalmist, too, from the depths of his distress, observes, “thou hast no delight in sacrifice.”
Christ (in Matthew) abjures us to not fast and “mourn,” but to get the lead out and take a sinner to lunch.
So how did we come up with the dour approach to Lent, as opposed to the doer alternative?