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February 18, 2018 - Giving-Up & Emracing

First Sunday of Lent

Scripture Readings

There is a ninety year old parishioner whom I visit every so often. She takes Lent very seriously. The other day when I visited her she winked at me and said, “I am giving you up for Lent!” It was one of those rare times when I did not have a comeback. I said to  her that I was going to tell on to the entire parish. She smiled. Humor aside, I think the story highlights our obsession with “giving up” during Lent. Often, Lent becomes all about giving up. Sometimes, the  very thing that is integral to the Lenten spirit is also the cause of its demeaning. Equating Lent with “giving up” or penance-for-penance-sake destroys the spirit of Lent. 

To make Lent truly meaningful we have to enter the wilderness with Jesus. After all, the forty days of Lent are meant to mirror the forty days of Jesus in the wilderness. Mark’s account, which is the account we read in this liturgical year, is the shortest version of the event. Yet, it has details enough to give Lent its true meaning. 

Here are my three practical implications to make Lent truly meaningful:

1. Wilderness, Identity & Mission? There is a big difference between Mark’s account of Jesus in the desert, and Matthew & Luke’s account. Mark gives us no details about Jesus in the desert. Its Matthew and Luke who give us an account of the three temptations. Marks only tells us what happened before and after Jesus’ days in the wilderness. Before he entered the desert, Jesus was baptized and voice from heaven affirmed him as “my beloved Son.” Here, Jesus’ identify was affirmed. After the desert, we hear Jesus’ very first words; “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Here, his mission was revealed. Here is how I read it. The desert connects Jesus’ identity (he is declared Son of God before the desert) and his mission (coming out of the desert, he inaugurated the Kingdom of God). He is the Son of God who has come to inaugurate God’s kingdom upon the earth. For Mark, then, it is not the temptations that are the focal point. His focus is on Jesus' identity and the mission that flows from his identity. What does this mean for us? It means that our forty days with Jesus during Lent must take us deeper than temptations and giving-up. It must focus us on our identity and mission. Who am I? How is my life contributing to the work of God’s Kingdom? 

2. Being "Driven by the Spirit. All the three accounts of Jesus’ forty days in the desert tell us that it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness. Mark expresses this a little differently. He says that the “Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” Mark’s use of, “drove Jesus out,” is interesting. It is the same expression that is used when Jesus drove out demons. There is an element of coercion, of force. In this way, Mark underscores the power the Spirit. The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at baptism now drives him into the wilderness. This shows Jesus’ docility, his humility, his submission to God’s will, his willingness to grapple with his identity and his mission. Jesus was totally available to the Spirit. What does this mean for us? It means that we allow the Spirit we received at baptism to “drive us.” We could ask ourselves: “What is the Spirit “driving us” out to this Lent? Again, “What role in the Spirit playing in my life during this Lent?” Can I imitate the humility and the docility of Jesus?

3. Lent: Giving Up & Embracing! Even though Mark does not tell us about the temptations of Jesus, he does mention the Jesus was indeed tempted. In the desert then, Jesus rejects that which is not of the Kingdom and embraces the Kingdom of God in its entirety. He both gives-up and embraces. That is why I say that Lent is not merely about giving up. It is also about embracing the kingdom of God the way Jesus did. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God be asking his listeners to “Repent and believe!” Repentance - that is the giving up! Let us repent (give up) of our prejudices and our hatreds, our lack of charity and our lack or mercy, our unforgiveness and our complacency. I hope our giving up of coffee, or chocolate, or beer or soda is a way to giving up values contrary to God’s kingdom. Belief - is the embracing!  We embrace the virtues of God’s kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Here is the real practical implications. If Lent does not make us a more loving, joyful, peaceful, patience, kind, generous, kind, gentle, and self-controlled people, then we have wasted another Lent. Let us enter the wilderness with Jesus, not simply because we want to give-up stuff, but rather, because we want to embrace the Kingdom. This is what Lent is all about.   

As we continue our journey with Jesus in the desert, let us focus on our identity, our mission, on being driven by the Spirit, and on embracing the Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate.  

- Fr. Satish Joseph