1st Sunday of Lent: 21 February 2021
|The Temptation of Christ by the Devil, by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1860|
I. Ordeals help one to make the right choices
On this First Sunday of Lent, the liturgy invites us to look at Christ and how he triumphed over Satan in his pursuit of God and His Will in life. Even though the Gospel writer St Mark in just two sentences speaks about Jesus' life in the wilderness, the primary message of the Messiah on repentance and believing in the Gospel takes a central stage here. This is how Jesus establishes his credibility and authority in his robust public ministry in Galilee. Only a person who has triumphed over temptations and Satan can preach about God and His mission to the people. Jesus' desert experience of forty days taught him how to focus on his vocation to which he was called. During this time he learnt what it was like to be hungry and thirsty as he managed to survive in the dry and inhospitable landscape.
What is fascinating here is, as Jesus emerged from the desert physically weakened and spiritually strengthened that the choices before him were clear. His ordeal taught him to make the right choices, gave him time to prepare and make himself ready to go out and proclaim the gospel. Certainly, during his period in the desert, he must have grappled with the ultimate questions of his life and faith - about truth and meaning, suffering and purpose, relationship with God, others and the cosmos and the like. His experiences were the raw material to draw conclusions about his mission of preaching the reign of God. All these questions about life are not problems to be solved but mysteries to be deepened. Lent is a wonderful season where we acknowledge just how lost we are in this messy world.
II. Being other centred is the goal of Lent
Speaking about Lent, St John Chrysostom has words of wisdom for us: "No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually if you do no good to others, you do nothing great". The traditions of our Lenten season like prayer, almsgiving and fasting give us ample opportunities to come closer to the person of Jesus Christ. These creative means help us to explore various ways to spend Lent profitably for the good of our soul. When we do some good deeds to others, then those who receive them feel comfortable and at ease. We can think about those health care personnel in the hospitals or clinics - doctors, nurses and other persons - who through their skilled care put us at ease even if the illness is terribly hurting us. This is what Saint John Chrysostom meant in his quote.
Doing the good deed is one thing, but the way in which it is done is quite different. Our Christian spirituality teaches us to be other-centred, in other words, God-centered. Serving the other is the main objective in our quest in being human and kind. The Lenten journey teaches us to be mindful of the other person's needs, wants and desires. Oftentimes, we would like to do a lot of things because of what we want so and not what the receiver desires. Lent calls to create new patterns in our thinking and doing. God also makes a new start in his relationship with humanity as we see in the first reading by making a covenant with Noah that his way of acting with the new humanity is different (Genesis 9:11).
III. We are partakers of eternity once and for all
Jesus' mission of preaching the good news to the world had a purpose. St Peter tells us boldly that "for Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3: 18). In Lent, we contemplate something serious. It is about our future with God for all ages. Thus God becomes our destiny once and for all. We manifest that thirst for God in concrete ways during this special period called Lent.
God becomes wholly real to us when we contemplate those mysteries of Christ's life, suffering and death. It is both in words and deeds. Through the waters of Baptism, we made a covenant with God and thus entered the kingdom of His beloved Son as St Paul tells us: "For he [Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13–14). In other words, we are all made children of God as His beloved sons and daughters (Galatians 4:3–7). Therefore our life as Christians is about nothing being politically correct or making a judgment about our appearance or personality. Rather it is about getting closer to Christ. The 40 days of desert experience that the Church gives is an opportunity to come out from our hiding or that which covers us under the guise of dirt of some sort. We need to find Him in nature or in the things that make our way or cross our paths as blessings or woes.
The first Sunday of Lent invites us to look for something big in God instead of getting distracted by disorderly attachments (as St. Ignatius of Loyola would call them) we have in our lives. They could be our anger, frustration, self-centeredness, stubbornness, unforgiveness, negativity, rude, fear and doubt, abuses of power and unearned privilege, and pervasive tribalism, etc. Let us make time for God and the things of God in this time of the year. Let our sight on God's Grandeur may not dim instead, we may be absorbed by this immense mystery. Just like Jesus experienced the fullness of life in God in the desert, we pray that we too experience God who brings, life, love and laughter during this Lenten season.Questions for Reflections:
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
20 February 2021