Lent is not about hairshirts, self-flagellation, shame…; not about showing your piety by your fasting, repentance in moroseness, displays of prayer… look back to our Ash Wed’s readings if you think that’s part of it!
As always, Scripture points us in the right direction; it is God’s language in words we can read, hear, learn and inwardly digest… and God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, shows us exactly what those words mean and what they look like.
So for our 40 days of Lent, a good place to look is Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. What did the Word of God do in those 40 days as he prepared to begin his ministry and witness to God the Father? When tempted to tend to his own hunger and needs- and by extrapolation the needs of all those who hunger and thirst- ending that hunger by simply turning the stone into bread, Jesus responded, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then Satan took him to the top of the temple, and picking up Jesus’ own words about trusting God’s word, and the goodness of God’s protection from harm, If you are the son of God… throw yourself down for the angels will keep you from even striking your foot against the stone. To which Jesus answered, “It is also written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and offered it all to Jesus… all including therein all aspects of life in those kingdoms… if Jesus would simple bow down and worship him, Jesus replied, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”
All good things… laudable motives, even. Ron and I once saw a great movie about Jesus’ life in which C. S. Lewis’ point about evil being good things turned into the primary object became the way the temptation was presented. And so, in the movie version of The Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus was tempted not by something sleazy we would recognize as sin, but instead by a lovely, caring woman who whispered don’t you want children, and a fire and a family? The ruling of the whole world forever was the way to end injustice forever; an end to the sins of slavery, war, famine, death by cancer, old age, child abuse, murder, and each and every way that individuals and society suffer oppression, illness and death. Good things… and yet. At the cost of the kingdom of God, of turning or twisting God’s word, Jesus said no.
Today’s Gospel selection from Mark doesn’t tell us about what happened during Jesus’ days in the wilderness and the specific temptations. It starts with the awesomeness of the voice of God confirming Jesus as God’s Beloved in whom God is well pleased, tells us that the Spirit then drove – compelled- Jesus to the wilderness where he was tempted for 40 days. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.
But of those temptations, Mark, as frequently is the case, skips over details and moves us immediately on. Here, he moves us on to the bottom line- what Jesus did. In the face of both temptations and the evil befalling his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus went out, proclaiming the good news of God. This good news is for Lent and any and every part of our own faith journey: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent and believe in the good news!”
This is the message of Lent- Repent- that is, turn away- from everything that takes your heart and mind away from the good news of God present- the kingdom of God come near. God’s will for us is peace, to live in the safety and joy of knowing that the kingdom we long for is right here.
We must open our eyes and see; if we focus or are distracted by other things, we will miss it. So as Jesus did, we must counter every invitation to focus on the sin, and look back again to the good thing that God gives us. Right here, right now, always… God. Present. The Kingdom at Hand… not waiting, not uncertain, not conditioned on how good we are or how much we believe or how esteemed we are by anyone. No- He is Here, Right Now. Thanks be to God!
Ron says that we should have a test on this next week… so, the test: how does your Lenten discipline, resolution or practice open your heart to God and love. If you haven’t found a discipline yet, how about making this it: share a story of coming to know that God is present- of a time when you knew that the Kingdom of God has come near. That will make you and your hearer smile and bask in love, even as the blowing snow and the cold temps make you quake.
And so we should heed The Word of God, Jesus: Repent- and Know that the Kingdom of God is Near… God is Here. Now go- Tell the Good News!