FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (February 18, 2018)
Today’s Gospel depicts a personal battleground for one’s soul, one’s spirit. Jesus went into the desert, a place of death, where people went to learn about life. They went to learn in the place where there were no distractions of sight or sound, or smell, or taste. In the desert, stripped of creature comforts and the usual supports one has. One’s only companion to oneself: one’s God.
Jesus spent forty days there. “Forty” connotes a long time in Jewish thought. Reminiscent of Moses’ forty days on the mountain of the commandments and Israel’s forty years in the desert where the Jews battled hunger, thirst, fear -- and were tempted to give up on their dream of the promised land and go back to Egypt. “Going back” can be a serious temptation.
Mark does not recount Jesus’ battle in detail as Matthew and Luke do, but simply says that Satan put Jesus to the test.
When we demythologize Satan, we understand Satan as the internal, devious forces of individuals, groups of people, and the structures they conceive that cause suffering to others. These forces alienate people from God and one another – forces diametrically opposed to God. Jesus’ purpose is to bring the Kingdom of God to God’s people.
Lent is surely not simply a time for “getting ashes” and not being able to eat meat on Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is not a time for simply “giving up something” to lose a few pounds for cosmetic reasons to make yourself and the world a more beautiful place. From the spiritual standpoint such practices are senseless -- even harmful. If we were to limit ourselves to these externals, we would be on the right side for the wrong reason -- which T.S. Eliot calls “the greatest treason.”
Lent is well called a “desert experience.” We do not leave our homes and jobs and travel to a desert. We make time to create a desert atmosphere in our hearts, in our spirits. We strip away some of the good things in our lives and provide a quiet place, a “venue” where we look back at the world and into our own lives.
Or, should I say we have the opportunity to do that. Whether we do that or not is our choice. Whether lent is spiritually profitable is largely in our hands. Jesus brought the kingdom of god to us. “Bringing” is only half the story. The other half is that the Kingdom of God needs to be accepted by us.
Some insights and a question that John Shea raised and answered are very helpful: why were Jesus and the Kingdom of God he preached, and the love of the father he lived and spread not more broadly accepted? Why have these not been more broadly accepted in the two millennia since?
Many of us heard the words last Wednesday, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” I suspect that the reason that I am not more deeply living Jesus and, perhaps, that you are not lies in the competing values in life. We tend to hold on to more tangible values like money and power. Turning away from sin has a second part – turning toward Jesus in metanoia and belief.
Money and power may be reduced to money alone – as Scripture says elsewhere: “ The love of money is the root of all evil.” Money begets power and obtains more power as we have so sadly learned in the national economy. So many believe that they are identified by their money and by power in many forms: personal appearance by expensive beauty aids and wardrobes; education by attending the “right schools” and prestigious, higher institutions; and more. The worse new is that we are not aware of it.
Repentance is gained, first, by recognizing our values. “Values clarification” exercises of some years ago are still helpful; if my house was on fire and I could make one trip out, what would I carry? Who are my closest friends – and why? Also, our knee-jerk and repetitive responses unveil our hidden values: “Gotta take care of number one – I owe it to myself – you only go around once in this life.“
We own values that are the mindless internalization of cultural assumptions that are alien to Living Jesus. Growth in the spiritual life is cultivating the consciousness of Jesus, “Living Jesus.”
Repentance is done, secondly, by letting go of those values that conflict with or opposes the Good News of Jesus, however difficult that may be and replacing them with Jesus-like values.
Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has drawn near.” So it is with us. Our life in time needs to be permeated with eternity; therefore, time is fulfilled in Living Jesus.
May the desert experience that began last Wednesday be eternally profitable to us all.